Steve Lantner / Mat Maneri
Leo Lab / CD062
Steve Lantner (pianos), Mat Maneri (violin)
Maneri is fast becoming recognised as one of the most important violinists in experimental music. His approach is poised and articulate, yet constantly seems to slip out from under the listener who is looking for either expressionism or lumpy formality. Marneri is certainly a melodist, and the concept of singing out lines so often drummed into learning violinists is something he has clearly taken to heart, and yet his concept of melody is, quite simply, unique.
Without doubt, this is partly due to his father’s Partchian division of the octave into 72 discrete steps — six, presumably, within each semitone. This writer will not pretend to understand how one controls such minute divisions on an instrument like the fiddle (much less on the saxophone, his father’s instrument). The effect on the ear is of an opening of melodic possibilities and a virtual abandonment of any principle of functional harmony. Where violinists like Leroy Jenkins use a great deal of microtonal inflections but play basically within the orbit of the tempered scale, Maneri takes that spirit of Romantic lyricism but transports it into outer space, removing the familiar core and leaving only a flexible, polymorphous flesh behind.
He is joined on this occasion by Lantner, who combines a conventional acoustic piano with a digital version so as to have access to the full 72-note gamut. His playing is as much a contrast to his partner’s as it is a complement. They share an often queasy fast-slow approach to rhythm and a great range of dynamics, but Lantner, being unable to use glissandos, seems to sketch out the harmonic world of each piece much more fully. It’s the piano’s traditional role in such situations, after all, and while these are hardly a traditional violin sonatas, there is something of that mind-set here. Certainly the whole thing feels deeply indebted to classical music — much more than to jazz — so that when Walter Horn mentions nine classical composers in his sleeve notes without referring to a single jazz influence, it’s hardly surprising.
In the absence of any real harmonic movement, however, Lantner sticks to broadly linear work through much of this disc. This makes sense: Maneri isn’t a histrionic high-notes man anyway, and a great sludge of microtonal clusters would hardly do him any favours. It’s a strategy which yields exciting, well-balanced interplay and the effect of their lines moving around like two flies in a closed room is much more effective than any solo-plus-comping could have been. The overall effect is often of two processes going on independently, but often glancing off one another as they do.
Yes, it’s a Maneri album to be treasured; it’s also a chance to hear Lantner, not a well-known name on these shores, but an exciting and intelligent player of whom more, no doubt, will be heard in the future. New England seems to be the location of the moment for a new kind of free improvisation, taking its cues from classicism rather than jazz, but the late Romantic spirit of Bartok, Schoenberg and Messiaen rather than the austere Modernists who influenced the genre in its earlier days. There’s no sell-out or move to the mainstream here, but there is an exploration of an area of improvised music which has previously been sidelined. As more young players like Lantner come to international attention (however marginal that’s bound to be in this music) it will be interesting to see how this strand of free improvisation develops. Richard Cochrane