Joe Maneri Trio
The Trio Concerts
Leo / CDLR307/308
Joe Maneri / reeds, piano, Mat Maneri / violina, viola, Randy Peterson / drums
Lantner / Maneri / Morris
Leo / CDLR317
Steven Lantner / piano, Joe Maneri / reeds, Joe Morris / guitar
Leo Records has been central to the development of the reedsman who Cook & Morton wryly refer to as a 65-year overnight success. It’s true that Maneri senior has spent most of his life as an unrecognised maverick, and that only in his autumn years has he garnered the critical acclaim he deserves. Leo issued two disks of the quartet which featured his son Mat and drummer Pederson way back in ’93, when Maneri was a far from bankable name; so did HatArt, all of which two years before ECM cottoned on.
For those sessions the three were joined by a succession of first-class bass players (Lockwood, McBee, then Schuller), but as sleeve notes to both of these CDs point out, the trio is a great setting for the elder Maneri’s music. Jaw-dropping though they are, the early Leo disks are also as impenetrable as a dense, prickly bramble hedge; the space a trio affords is most welcome.
These concerts were recorded back in ’98; two gigs in Massechusets captured in lovely clarity with a quiet but appreciative audience. Joe takes up the clarinet for the second half of disc 1, and even treats us to a little piano (an instrument on which he’s surprisingly revealing, although it has less immediate impact than his saxophone) on disc 2, but otherwise discourses at length on alto or tenor, always in close duet with his son.
Mat Maneri has been working with his father since he was a teenager (and, informally, doubtless much longer), and their close understanding is always strongly evident. It’s the common influences of cool jazz and Romanticism, the latter slightly tinged with Eastern European and Mediterranean folk musics, which really glues things together here, that and of course their long-worked-at ability to hear and anticipate one another.
Peterson really drops science in this setting, playing rhythms which are n levels removed from any putative pulse, but which make perfect sense, and the music as a result swings along effortlessly without ever sounding glib. He gets plenty of space, too — two furiously inventive, at times baffling solos on “Balance + Pulse”, neither of which is at all dispensible.
Mat Maneri’s increasing use of electric violin is taking him ever further from the traditional gesturss of the jazz fiddle. Here he’s reminiscent most of all of Bill Frisell — of all people — with his swelled-in chords, ambiguous and pithy. His very melodic side also gets ample room, but what’s wonderful here as elsewhere is the counterpoint he creates with his father’s tenor; and with Mat on baritone electric violin, even their timbres are closer than ever (one interesting aspect of Joe’s playing is that he shows little interest in extremes of timbre, and plays for the most parts clean, clear notes).
The pianist is a spikey, atonal player as far as one can tell, but that just puts Maneri, who studied with a pupil of Berg’s, entirely at ease. Lantner, indeed, plays the piano a bit like Joe Maneri does, only with a sharpened sense of purpose and a lot more technique. A slight adjustment in rhythmic approach is audible here compared with the duos with the younger player, who enjoys a queasy rubato, whereas Maneri Snr has a more conventional (although by no means old-fashioned) free swing, not waxing and waning but driving, as it were. Lantner makes the shift effortlessly, perhaps even unconsciously, and the pair make a superb match.
This writer has expressed reservations about Morris before (not in these pages), but his playing is often superb on this recording. He does have a tendency towards superficial effect, but it’s almost entirely overcome here in favour of a challenging communion with both partners. He takes a slightly less prominent position compared with the others, allowing him the luxury of interjecting and creating supportive lines which he does with great aplomb. His solos are still a bit widdly-diddly for this writer’s taste, but that stuff really is subdued here in favour of co-operative trio playing of a very high order, and when Morris slows down and think about his notes he makes splendidly apposite decisions.
These two releases continue the admirable work Leo Records is doing to get the Maneri catalogue properly established. The Leo Maneris will eventually (perhaps not long from now) come to be viewed in the same was as the Leo Braxtons, Sun Ras, Taylors and Crispells. May there be many more to come, but until then, get the Trio Concerts without delay. If it will save you anything in the postage, the trio with Lantner will be unlikely to disappoint either. Richard Cochrane