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Mat Maneri Quartet: Blue Decco

With his own quartet, Maneri’s music is somewhat easier to approach than the music he plays with other groups. Pianist Craig Taborn is an original and interesting player. His harmonic sense is quite advanced, at times sounding like sort of a cross between Messiaen and McCoy Tyner. The pianist’s presence provides a reference that helps demystify Maneri’s playing, at least harmonically, as chord progressions are used extensively if not obviously. Drummer Gerald Cleaver is inventive and responsive, particularly good at implying a tempo that constantly falters and reasserts itself, while William Parker is outstanding on bass, even by his high standards. Sometimes he pushes things along with relentless walking, at others he switches to arco and becomes follower; it’s hard not to think of a big cat shadowing a darting mouse on the duo “It #2.” The writing is strong and varied, but “Hush Little Baby,” an extension of Thelonious Monk and Andrew Hill’s approach to deconstructing nursery rhymes, is my favorite track. This is one of the best free-jazz records I’ve heard in a long time.

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