Angles of Repose
Whether you love the way saxophonist Joe Maneri messes with pitch, or think he sounds like an old Lee Konitz vinyl LP left out in the sun too long, you have to admit: He's got his own thing going. Although I've most often leaned toward the Konitz-in-the-sun theory, Angles of Repose (ECM) has me reconsidering. Perhaps it's the context; my admittedly limited exposure to Maneri has been mostly via recordings with drummers and bass players-in other words, with him as the horn player in a more-or-less typical free-jazz group. Angles teams Joe with fiddle-playing son Mat (on viola here) and bassist Barre Phillips. When playing with a bassist and drummer, it seems like Joe tries trying to fit his square-peg-of-a-woodwind style into the round hole of conventional jazz instrumentation. In contrast, this format is tailor made for him. Without a drummer to obscure his lines or push him in directions he doesn't want to go, Maneri is able to use time and space as freely as he wants.
The best of these improvised cuts leave plenty of room for the musicians to explore the nuances of pitch and timbre that define Joe's-and to a lesser extent Mat's-concept. Instead of the solid-body electric instruments Mat often favors, here he plays a conventional viola, probably because there's no drummer and he doesn't have to fight to be heard-whatever the reason, it's a good thing. Phillips plays like an honorary Maneri; his approach meshes perfectly with father and son. Beautiful, fresh, involving music. Sometimes context is everything.