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Joe Maneri: In Full Cry

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It’s scary to think that reedman and pianist Maneri, one of the most innovative improvisers to emerge in decades, almost slipped by us unnoticed. He’d just about given up on performing live when his violinist son, Mat, got him to play in clubs about ten years ago.

A New England Conservatory of Music teacher since 1970, Maneri has developed a style of playing that blends jazz, modern classical and ethnic, e.g. Greek, Jewish, influences. He’s been into free improvisation since the 1940s and recorded some of it playing clarinet, tenor sax and piano in the mid-50s. He employs microtonality, atonality and multiphonics.

Clarinet was Joe’s first instrument, which he plays here along with alto, tenor and piano. He leads a group he’s been working with for some years, including Mat on electric six-string violin, bassist John Lockwood and drummer Randy Peterson. Most of the 12 selections here are free performances; they don’t even have themes. “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” “Tenderly” and “Prelude to a Kiss” are also performed, but the improvisers do not adhere to their underlying structures, although they attempt to retain the mood of the pieces.

The music on the CD is simultaneously very intense and cerebral, partly because the musicians work so hard to play fresh ideas emotionally, avoid cliches and interact creatively. There’s no predetermined sequence of solos and collectively improvised passages here, but the group’s been together a long time and handles transitions seamlessly. They react to each other telepathically when playing rubato.

While Joe’s an avant gardist, his influences can be discerned, and some are pre-bop players including Pee Wee Russell, Lester Young and Ben Webster. Like Russell he makes unusual interval choices and sometimes uses a dirty timbre clarinet. On tenor his sonority can be light like Young’s or full and raspy like Webster’s or Vido Musso’s. His alto playing is sinuous and on it he produces a small, attractive tone. He plays piano brilliantly as well; on it his modern classical influences are most apparent.

Mat’s also picked ideas from various sources, but his father’s marked him more strongly than anyone else. Imaginative and resourceful, he’s currently among the finest young improvisers in the avant garde. Lockwood’s a very strong, dependable player. Peterson keeps performances alive, without being overbearing, does a fine job as a colorist and takes solos that are sometimes quiet and unusually and intelligently paced