Who knew a song called “Harlem Bliss” could be so somber and disturbing? Incorporating lots of blues licks (especially in composer Lucian Ban’s piano turns), as well as motifs from “Body and Soul” and “Lonely Woman,” it’s also built on exceedingly dark harmonies between Ban and violist Mat Maneri and moves slower than a dirge. That track—the second—ably represents Transylvanian Concert as a whole. Recorded in 2011, it’s a solemn hulk of an album, whose permeating sense of dread eclipses its scattered loveliness.
That dread often defies listener expectations, and the album doesn’t lighten when it has more momentum. The most energetic performance, Ban’s “Monastery,” is also the most sinister; Ban plays an insistent, aggressive vamp that Maneri counters with atonal, often coarse tangles of sound. Another, the co-written “Darn,” builds to a similar intensity (with a more active piano line), and remains as doleful at its peak as at its ebb. Most confounding of all, though, may be Maneri’s “Retina,” which frequently suggests an increase of tempo (in Ban’s cascading arpeggios) and ferocity (in Maneri’s sawing arco lines) only to once again become mired in desolation.
On the other hand, Maneri’s solo take on the traditional “Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen” is on the nose. Indeed, it’s even more bleak than usual: Maneri offers hints of catharsis in the theme, then seems to violently exorcise them with slow but discordant clusters and oblong, spiraling figures. Add in Ban’s long, lumbering, melancholy bookends, “Not That Kind of Blues” and “Two Hymns,” and Transylvanian Concert—perhaps appropriately, given the locale—comes as close as it gets to Goth-jazz.