Mat Maneri violin, viola
Recorded July 1999 at Gateway Studio, Kingston
Engineer: Steve Lowe
Produced by Steve Lake
There’s something about the title of “Pure Mode,” prologue to Mat Maneri’s first solo album, Trinity, that describes his abilities just right. Like the nine improvisations that follow, it jumps off of a prewritten motive (in this case, by Matthew Shipp) and offers us a four-stringed experience like no other. Maneri goes unplugged this time, feeling out the forest of richness already ingrained into the wood and gut at his bow. He stews in every design for what it’s worth and walks along a slippery melodic slope as if it were dry and even ground. If we take “Almost Pretty” as a mirror, then we know this project is anything but vain, for Maneri consciously eschews the trappings of virtuosity that so often loom before the solo performer like a locked door. He is instead interested in the intricacies of that mechanism. He coaxes it open through disinterest alone. The scuttling crabs of this tidal song do not tempt him. Theirs is a rhythm he does not need. We might, then, look to the title track for a snatch of mission statement. In its 10-minute passage rests the winged key to another realm entirely, one that walks a bridge of half-light. Thus he traces the shores of his own dreams, christening John Coltrane’s “Sun Ship” on its raga-like voyage to the earth’s center. The unerring valences of his notecraft are nowhere more apparent. His quiver stocked with idiomatic arrows, he looses them into the sky, knowing they will never heed gravity. Such artistry extends into the visual, as in “Blue Deco,” for which Maneri treats the violin like paint. He chooses air in place of canvas and renders a world alone. This, along with “Veiled,” is the most chamber-like excursion of the program, a void of interpretable dots and dashes that peaks in children’s squeals. In each, solid walls of pizzicato break the flow. “Iron Man” (Eric Dolphy) and “Lattice” (Joe Morris) form another pair. Wrought in heavy matter and spindling filigree alike, they wander drunkenly into the distilled tonic of “November 1st.” This we can sip and savor, a duster for the cobwebbed staircases of the mind. Meanwhile, the house is littered with “Lady’s Day Lament.” Riffing on a tune by his father, Maneri loosens every nail until the entire structure hums.
Whether or not Mat Maneri’s sound-world will divide listeners is irrelevant, for it already fuses so many disparate strands into a single precious current that everyone gets swept up in it all the same. Open your mouth and drink it. You will never drown.