MANERI ENSEMBLE

Going To Church
AUM Fidelity AUM 024

MAT MANERI
Sustain
Thirsty Ear THI 57122.2

Substantial slices of Maneri music, these two new CDs prove that while violist Mat Manner has internalized the quirky cogitation and execution of his father, reedist Joe Maneri, he’s not adverse to testing out some ideas of his own in different contexts.

Father-son improvisers are nothing new on the jazz scene and have ranged from boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons and his funky tenor saxophonist son Gene Ammons to mainstream pianist Ellis Marsalis and his progeny. But few offspring are as inculcated in his father’s music, as Mat — born in 1969 — who began playing music with his father when he was only seven. It’s hardly necessary to point out that Joe — born in 1927 — was no mainstream Marsalis. A jobbing musician for years with an interest in ethnic, microtonal and 12-tone composition as well as jazz improvisation, his talent finally got him a gig teaching theory and composition at Boston’s New England Conservatory in 1970. But his single-mindedness left him unrecorded until his belated emergence in the mid-1990s.

Initially, and probably still, a member of most of his father’s Massachusetts-centred bands, Mat moved to New York by the late 1990s and deepened his relationship with likes of pianist Mathew Shipp, bassist William Parker and guitarist Joe Morris among others.

Here, although the two CDs initially sound similar, the differences are apparent on close listening. CHURCH is almost classical in its instrumentation and orientation, while the use of electric keyboards and a domineering bassist and drummer makes SUSTAIN more tonally dense.

Secularists shouldn’t be frightened by the title on the Maneri Ensemble’s CD, by the way. No one sings any hymns or passes the collection plate. Some improvisers have said that “jazz is my religion”, and the house of worship here is a similar structure to the devotional space players like Frank Wright, John Coltrane and Albert Ayler aspired to and often inhabited.

Unlike those frenzied, ecstatic players, however, the elder Maneri’s worship is done in the context of restrained chamber improv, with even the drummer’s contribution — from longtime Maneri associate Randy Peterson — characterized by irregular pulses, unobtrusive rhythms and a quill-like gliding touch.

At more than 31½ minutes, “Blood and Body”, the first track, is obviously the central offering at this free jazz altar. Chief priest Joe Maneri directs the liturgy with his collection of sacred objects — the clarinet, alto and tenor saxophone. Omitting pious solemnity, the reedist elaborates the theme at different times, keeping the congregation in the same place in the hymnbook with off-centre, elongated trills and guttural smears. At points he begins his sermons in the chalumeau register than, as he feels the spirit, raises his voice ‘way past coloratura and into squeaks, screeches and begins almost speaking in tongues.

Moving from half-valve notes to the top of his horn’s range, trumpeter Roy Campbell sometime exhibits his plunger tone as the best way to illuminate a counter motif parable. The percussionist provides some ride cymbal and ratamacue accompaniment. Meanwhile bassist Barre Phillips, a habituated true believer from his days 40 years ago with clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre up to his recent collaboration with saxist Evan Parker, sometimes allows himself the suggestion of walking bass. More frequently, though, his benediction involves guitar-like strums from the top of his strings or genuflecting arco devotion. Since the stately procession is andante most of the time, pianist Mathew Shipp’s right hand is often raised from tinkling his keys, when he isn’t suggesting a spinet’s tone or producing heartfelt ecclesiastical chords.

As for the son, his interaction with his father occurs most often with multiple forays from his five or six-string violas. His arco innovations encompass triple stopping and portamento, though at times, father and son become one as his tone merges with serpentine alto saxophone split tones. These appear to inhabit the atmosphere midway between the creations of Eric Dolphy and a viola’s singular tone.

Both remaining tunes build on the scripture articulated on “Blood and Body”. There are more Gabriel-like brass blasts from Campbell, sacramental funeral march note displays from Shipp, multiple string exposure from Phillips and the younger Maneri and pure-toned hisses and dissonant colored noises from Maneri senior, as his smearing vibrato gathers the musical supplicants together for devotion.

If two figures from the blessed Trinity are present on GOING TO CHURCH, then SUSTAIN may be said to introduce the third, the Holy Ghost, in the person of soprano saxophonist Joe McPhee.

Avoiding blasphemy, it should be noted that at 63 McPhee is old enough to have interacted with the high priests of Energy Music such as Coltrane, Ayler and Ornette Coleman. But over the years his improvising has gone from Old Testament fire-and-brimstone to the understated New Testament sound he exhibits here.

Featuring beside McPhee and the son an entirely new set of converts, this CD features four major tracks plus five tunes titled with some variation of “Alone” that are example of solo prayers. The soprano saxist, for instance, showcases forward moving legato lines that range between glottal interior horn sounds and circular breathing exercises. On his own, drummer Gerald Cleaver, whose past associates have included saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell and bassist Mark Helias, creates electronic sounding percussion sounds reminiscent of the early work of Brits Paul Lytton and Tony Oxley.

Secularism is represented here by the shimmering wah-wah keyboard excursions of Craig Taborn, who often plays with altoist Tim Berne. Avoiding Herbie Hancock-like, 1970s-style electric piano wiggles his refractive tones blend well with McPhee’s soprano. On acoustic piano though, his touch relates back to Thelonious Monk. However at one point on “Nerve”, someone, either Taborn or triple-stopping Maneri creates a constant, angled tone that seems to come straight from the mixing board, bringing with it early fusion memories of Mahavishnu’s Jerry Goodman or the Fourth Way’s Michael White. Cleaver’s polyrhythmic beat is many steps ahead of what those bands produced however, while McPhee’s pitch sliding and the frantic, nearly atonal skittering from Taborn’s keyboards proves that nothing here is an exercise in nostalgia.

Similarly no one would confuse William Parker’s deep-bottomed acoustic bass with that from a whiny electric model. Sometimes sounding as if he’s working in two clefs simultaneously, he uses his fingers to blend rhythmically with the drums and keyboards at times, or his bow to expand the string section with Maneri elsewhere.

Examined carefully, the CD is a polyphonic house of mirrors. It’s animated with sounds that encompass everything from what appears to be PVC pipe echoes, irregular drum shards, the rubbing and drone of the electric keyboard and massed strings. It’s also as much of a secular triumph for the younger Maneri as the other CD confirms the jubilant spirituality of his father.

— Ken Waxman

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Track Listing: Going: 1. Blood and Body 2. Before the Sermon 3. Going To Church

Personnel: Going: Roy Campbell (trumpet); Joe Maneri (alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet); Mat Maneri (viola); Matthew Shipp (piano); Barre Phillips (bass); Randy Peterson (drums)

Track Listing: Sustain: 1. Alone (Origin) 2. In Peace 3. Alone (Construct) 4. Sustain 5. Alone (Unravel) 6. Nerve 7. Alone (Cleanse) 8. Divine 9. Alone (Mourn)

Personnel: Sustain: Joe McPhee (soprano saxophone); Mat Maneri (violas); Craig Taborn (keyboards); William Parker (bass); Gerald Cleaver (drums)