Joe Maneri Quartet: In Full Cry (ECM 1617)

Joe Maneri Quartet
In Full Cry

Joe Maneri clarinet, alto and tenor saxophones, piano
Mat Maneri six-string electric violin
John Lockwood double-bass
Randy Peterson drums, percussion
Recorded June 1996 at Hardstudios, Winterthur
Engineer: Martin Pearson
Produced by Steve Lake

It’s safe to say that the work of improviser Joe Maneri and his son Mat, whose combination of acoustic reeds and electric strings baffled and astonished listeners in turn on Three Men Walking, is as legendary as it is underappreciated. For that ECM debut, they swabbed the deck with guitarist Joe Morris, whose likeminded spirit never once compromised the duo’s slippery needlework. Here they meld minds with bassist John Lockwood and drummer Randy Peterson. Vivid idiosyncrasies abound. So much so that, more than microtonal, the music is multilingual. Borrowing from blues, free jazz, 12-tone serialism, chamber music, and another indefinable source, the sounds that issue from this quartet span centuries and continents of influence. While perhaps unsettling in isolation, as part of a musical worldview these languages shine with a boggling fluency of translation. The album’s title, then, is something of a mission statement.

Then again, so are the titles of every song therein. For indeed, these instantaneous introspections are bursting with the urges of songcraft. We hear this from track the first. “Coarser And Finer” is, like sandpaper grit, an adhesive and shaping tool, rounding lyrical beginnings to a smile. An agile clarinet finds purchase in “Tenderly” and “Nobody Knows,” the latter one of two spirituals to open their eyes to this wilting landscape. Its lines find barest intimation in that burnished reed and condense into the arresting falter of Peterson’s bangers and mash. Joe warbles like a bird gnawing at is own branch until he falls, begging with feet extended and wings clipped. “Motherless Child” plummets that bird like a seed for future trees. Such distortions breathe in the shadow of what any by-the-book version might romp through. Performers and subject hold each other so tightly that they pass through one another. Rather than make something new of traditions and standards, these sages peel back the many added layers and chart the veins beneath to find something essential to their persistence.

We’re taken also “Outside The Dance Hall,” a space where frenzy and madness stick like the residue of abandoned presentiment, and on through the primordial soup of “A Kind Of Birth,” in which Mat’s violin swims in search of “The Seed And All.” This blistering whisper, if not a whispering blister, carries forth the dreams of elders made new in puppet form, an intimate marionette for whom the bell sings fitfully. “Pulling The Boat In” is the swan song of a warped unicorn, writhing under the title track’s gravid thumb—only the belly of this beast is quiet and self-reflective. “Shaw Was A Good Man, Peewee” is the tapeworm’s song, ribboned with guilty pleasure; “Lift” a puff of air from puerile lips, cackling as if on slowed-down tape. As if this weren’t enough to whet our appetites, this outing ends like the last with a piano solo. Now protracted and exploratory, it wrenches from Duke Ellington’s “Prelude To A Kiss” a spectrum of shades. In so acknowledging his compositional roots, he leaves us dangling in pursuit of a drop that never speaks.

Four brains, eight hands, infinite secrets.

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