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Joe Maneri Trio: The Trio Concerts

Saxophonist/clarinetist/pianist Joe Maneri is a fine innovator in style and technique. That artistry, however, doesn’t always transfer to his records. These three releases do not capture his unique microtonal techniques properly: they are all less-than-spectacular live recordings. What Maneri needs more than live albums are serious, intentional studio recordings, like the ones he has made for ECM. On these outings, Maneri plays with great vitality and refinement, but the results aren’t consistently worthy of release.

The best album of this bunch is the second disc of The Trio Concerts. Backed by Randy Peterson on drums and son Mat Maneri on violin, this date from November 1998 shows the trio in prime form. Joe Maneri switches back and forth between alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet and piano as the trio enjoys a great exchange of ideas throughout the set, with each member given opportunity to showcase his own voice. The treasures of the second CD are tarnished, however, by the mediocrity of disc one. The recording, made 13 months prior, is atrociously poor. The uneven microphone setup makes Peterson so much louder than the other musicians, and when the trio plays in unison Joe Maneri is inaudible at times.

The hatOLOGY release, Out Right Now, is confounding. The CD is a six-year-old concert recorded around the release of Three Men Walking (ECM), one of Maneri’s finest recordings. The lineup of father and son Maneri and guitarist Morris speaks a personal language, finishing each other’s musical sentences like only family and friends can. While the playing at this 1995 show in Cologne, Germany, is up to the same high standard set by Three Men Walking, the recording quality is much poorer. And at over 70 minutes, it is less rewarding than the pristine ECM CD.

The third installment of live Maneri isn’t really his record. Although he is given partial credit for the album, it is Steven Lantner’s CD. While there is nothing to distinguish this from being a totally improvised event, Lantner is given most of the writing credit. Recorded live at the WGBH Radio Studio in August 2000, the trio of Maneri, Lantner and Morris is not an ideal match. The group sounds disjointed and abrasive to the point where it seems that Maneri and Morris probably wouldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) want their names on the front of the CD.

Maneri is one of those rare musicians that is often brilliant in his live performances. What some label needs to do is preserve his remarkable performances by recording them properly.

Originally Published