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November 2005

Mat Maneri
Pentagon

Pentagon proves yet again the profound impact on jazz of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, a controversial masterpiece that's still inspiring musicians 35 years after its release. Here, the prolific violinist/viola player Mat Maneri marshals the talents of nine musicians-including his father Joe on alto sax and myriad keyboards-to pay homage to the fusion milestone. (Maneri also alludes to antiwar sentiments, but Bush, Rumsfeld, et al. probably aren't fretting much about it.)

Throughout Pentagon, Maneri and cohorts display remarkable dexterity and unpredictability, extracting Bitches Brew's essence-especially the baroquely burbling Rhodes and cyclotronic rhythms-without grossly replicating it. All the elements come at you from oblique angles, with the players dealing subtly glancing blows. Maneri somehow makes his instruments conjure the scalding, coruscating tones of John McLaughlin, Pete Cosey and other guitarists from Davis' early-'70s units. Every piano, horn, string, organ and beat is deployed with fanatical precision in service of a sound that fluidly shifts between enigmatic amorphousness and mathematical rigor, like some sonic interpretation of a Wassily Kandinsky painting.

The disc concludes with a minimalist cover of the patriotic song "America," tinged with sadness and irony, but deeply moving despite the mixed emotions animating it.

Originally published in November 2005
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