In free jazz, the possibilities may seem endless, only grounded by the usually loose framework of swing. In the world of free improvisation, anything goes: Obnoxious bursts of noise and the use of silence and found sound can play just as important a role as limited blues and jazz scales. Microtonal five-string violist Mat Maneri and prepared pianist Denman Maroney’s recent union, Distich, falls firmly into the free-improv camp, eschewing predetermined motifs and rhythms for aleatoric noises and melodies culled from intrinsic logic.
Maroney—who has played with artists as diverse as Mission of Burma’s Roger Miller, Tim Berne, Elliott Sharp, Ed Schuller and Bobby Previte—plays his Hyperpiano here, a Steinway B piano custom-made with metal, including the soundboard, tuning pins and strings. Taking Henry Cowell’s “The Banshee” and John Cage’s landmark 1946-48 recording “Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano” as a springboard to dive into completely alien pianistic territory, Maroney has, throughout his career, continued to find new ways to strike and scrape his instrument, coaxing myriad whines, howls and plinks from it. With a foil as advanced and creative as Maneri, Distich shows the pianist expanding his vocabulary even further.
At numerous occasions throughout the disc, it sounds as if the viola and Hyperpiano are the same instrument; their microtonal properties make it almost impossible to discern who is playing what. Maneri does play fractured melodies that can be briefly identified as Eastern European gypsy folk or the avant-classicalism of Schoenberg and Stravinsky, but mostly he just darts around Maroney and saws and plucks with abandon, refusing to settle on a rhythmic or melodic idea.