Joe Maneri/Mat Maneri: Blessed (ECM 1661)

Joe Maneri
Mat Maneri

Joe Maneri alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet, piano
Mat Maneri violin, electric 6-string and baritone violins, electric 5-string viola
Recorded October 1997 at Hardstudios, Winterthur
Engineer: Martin Pearson
Produced by Steve Lake

The stone gate. Vagary of an age lost to the water that swallows its knees. To listen to this record is to step through that gate, and find on the other side not ocean but a new kind of air in which water and vapor bleed like the sun’s light from the moon, the parent in the child. Many father-son teams have thus riddled the history of jazz, but between Joe and Mat Maneri one not only hears the biological bonds at play, but feels their electrical charge, and nowhere more so than on this first duo recording for ECM. Much can be made of the microtonal grammar that Maneri Senior has perfected over decades and which rests so intuitively at his fingertips, but at the end of the day it’s all about physicality and attunement. “If I play a thousand microtones, what’s that worth if the rhythm isn’t happening,” he tells us. “In some ways the rhythm is the most vital part of what we’re doing.” Listening to them emote is akin to listening to Paul Motian on the drums. Such is their fluency. Comparing them and their fashionable counterparts, however, is night and day. Which is to say, night on Earth and day on a different planet. By the same token, there is something so deeply integrated about the playing that we cannot help but look inward to find its pulse.

And yes, we may search for the pulse, but in doing so forget that the search is itself the pulse. Its most potent strain breathes through the lungs of “There Are No Doors,” “Never Said A Mumblin’ Word,” and the title track, all three of which feature Maneri Senior at the piano. If the titles seem to be proclamations, it’s only because the Maneris practice what they preach, tracing the crevices of experience for all the grit we’ve left behind. From this they build microscopic castles and flag them with rapid eye movement. “Sixty-One Joys” is perhaps the most achingly beautiful animal Maneri Junior has ever tamed, an electric baritone violin solo that drinks pathos like honey and exhales sugar in the raw. The insectile blues “From Loosened Soil,” another thing of elemental attraction, bridges us into “Five Fantasies,” which draws on Webern’s bagatelles and ends on a light scream. “Is Nothing Near?” comes closest to an identifiable place, a place where reedmen convene to spit life in the dead of night. Waves of arco fortitude flounder in slow motion, the outtakes of a film starring cigarettes and rainwater. And what of light? For this, we turn to “Body And Soul,” an acoustic violin solo knocking at the door of a homespun dream. It is the rat in the kitchen who eyes the cheese, the teacher in the classroom who nods off mid-lesson, the child in the playground who sees a rainbow and cries, “Race You Home.” The clarinet gets a klezmer test spin in “Gardenias For Gardenis” before shifting into a Lombard Street drive in “Outside The Whole Thing.” At the end of it: a hole in the ground.

Unearthed is what this music is, like a gold nugget or gemstone—only these two mavericks are not interested in priceless rarities but rather take exquisite interest in the sifted dirt. When watered by the gifts of these performances, the dirt burgeons with syllables. They may not be of a language we can all produce on command, but it is one we can always translate.

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