Maneri/Phillips/Maneri: Tales of Rohnlief (ECM 1678)

Tales of Rohnlief

Joe Maneri alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet, piano, voice
Barre Phillips double-bass
Mat Maneri electric 6-string and baritone violins
Recorded June 1998 at Hardstudios, Winterthur
Engineer: Martin Pearson
Produced by Steve Lake

Tales of Rohnlief is an exercise in recitation. Joe Maneri’s histrionics call out to grasslands and briny spray. He preaches at the edge of the world, where rocks cut like scissors through wrapping paper: only a push and not a squeeze. In his voice is all the landscape one needs to find purchase for the journey that follows. The voice expresses itself by way of throat and reed, a pitch-bent nightmare turned frosty and sweet. It pales into a spontaneous croak as Barre Phillips and Mat Maneri press their palms to an elaboration of surrender. And with that, these three uncannily attuned improvisers touch the sky with more sky. A break in the clouds reveals a backdrop of revelry.

“A Long Way From Home” feels like anything but, so intimate is its delivery. It whisks us through points of contact as familiar as our subcutaneous selves, and just as sensitive to the errant touch. Mewing cats trade places with stone idols flicking their tongues in the face of condemnation, licking away the possibility of failure as a hand wipes away condensation. Paltry rhyme schemes fail, however, to express the depth of this game of halos. We may, then, search for another method to the genius we now face. I propose that we turn our ears away from what is being told and focus rather on the telling itself. For if we look beyond titles like “When The Ship Went Down” and “The Aftermath,” neither of which help us despite the wonders of their contents, we realize that the inaugural voice has never left us. Its register curls a ghost’s hand and guides us through the gnarled lessons of “Bonewith” until, lo!, it casts its oracle shadow across the “Flaull Clon Sleare” and watches, silent, as we attempt to “Hold The Tiger” (a particularly brilliant pop-up). Watery yet never watered down, the song cackles. “The Field” is another notable mention, if not for its mournful qualities then for the color of its blood. Three dark and winding paths bring us to the tongue-tied destination of “Pilvetslednah.” Now that he’s shown us the yard, Joe welcomes us into his home, forever full of warmth.

There is so much sincerity in this music that it hurts.

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