At a jam session during the '98 ECM Festival in Badenweiler, Germany, ECM boss Manfred Eicher caught Mat Maneri on acoustic viola rather than his customary electric violin. Duly impressed, he convinced the younger Maneri to record an acoustic solo recital for the label. By '99, Maneri arrived in studio with both violin and viola in hand. Released two years later, Trinity is the result.
As with most nonpiano solo recitals, Trinity demands a lot from its listeners. Taking a structured, composerly approach to the violin, however, Maneri does make it easier. Rather than focus on sheer technique, Maneri's patient playing focuses on the polyphonic capabilities of his instrument. Bowing two and three notes simultaneously or bowing and plucking at the same time, Maneri often sounds like a string ensemble. With deeper bass notes, his viola allows him strikingly broad range, and Maneri certainly exploits it, bolstering his playing with low-end rumbles and plucked bass lines.
On his own tunes, Maneri proceeds with great care-perhaps too much delicacy at times. He leaves nearly as much space as he fills. And without other players to react against, he does tend to fall into patterns. With the exception of a long, intense "November 1st," it's when Maneri engages with other composers' work that he produces memorable performances. Maneri reimagines Coltrane's "Sun Ship" as a relentless lilting drone, bulks up Dolphy's "Iron Man" with a blunt attack, wide intervals and finger-tap groove, and with a noticeable swagger and sneer, absolutely rips through Joe Morris' "Lattice."