Mat Maneri/Craig Taborn/Gerald Cleaver

September 11, 2000

Blue Decco
Thirsty Ear TH 57092.2

Mat Maneri may be the savior of jazz violin. If not that, he’s definitely it’s future. Long the music’s stepchild, with 200 drummers or saxophonists for every Stuff Smith or Joe Venuti, jazz violin banged into the fusion brick wall about 30 years ago when nearly every fiddler tried to emulate Jean Luc Ponty’s guitar-god-like string playing. For the past quarter century, though, even Ponty has produced little more than tired retreads of his earlier work. At the same time the few musicians who found a role for violin in improv musics, were rapidly aging. Except for the work of the equally talented, and slightly older, Mark Feldman, it appeared that jazz violin evolution is linked to the fingers and strings of Maneri.

Still in his 30s, he’s cast his lot in with experimenters such as freeform pianist Mathew Ship and bassist/organizer William Parker (featured here). Using such sound-extenders as a six-string electric violin, a baritone violin and a five-string viola, he’s able to function like a reed player, switching between his different axes as the occasion demands. The horn comparison is further strengthened by the fact that he’s working with a full rhythm section for the first time on disc, free of the need to take on any of their functions. Not that he has to, though.

Parker’s strength as timekeeper and colorist are recognized, but the lesser-known pianist and drummer lockstep into the proceedings as well. Cleaver, who has worked with Roscoe Mitchell and Joe Morris, among others, sticks mainly to restrained timekeeping, while Taborn, who was buried in James Carter’s earliest groups, is given a bit of solo space. On the title tune he ornaments modernist filigree onto its blues underpinnings, while on “Mute”, he’s anything but, spelling Maneri by tossing boiling note clusters on top of rhythmic backing.

The violinist operates on full power at all time, whether launching a quicksilver string run, stopping for a pizz interlude or playing so many strings at once that he sounds as if he’s duetting with himself. Don’t be fooled by the number of standards here either. Maneri rightly looks on them as improvisationary launching pads, not the sacred texts of the neo-con movement. Thus a reharmonized “Hush Little Baby” can sound as abstract here as the cryptically titled “It #3”. Blue Decco┬áis as approachable as any horn-and-rhythm date you can name, and a heck more fun. And it strengthens the position of the violin as an improvising vehicle.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Hush Little Baby 2. It #2 3. Blue Decco 4. The New Lord’s Prayer 5. It #3 6. Mute 7. Blue Sun 8. I Got It Bad

Personnel: Mat Maneri (violin); Craig Taborn (piano); William Parker (bass); Gerald Cleaver (drums)