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Mat Maneri Quartet: Dust (Sunnyside)

A review of the latest album from the violist-led quartet

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Mat Maneri Quartet, Dust
The cover of Dust by the Mat Maneri Quartet

Putting aside for the moment mention of chamber-jazz weaves, global influences, modal designs, and high-wire improv, what’s the most economical way to describe the performances on Dust? How about suggesting an alternative four-letter album title? Soul, for instance.

After all, that’s the common emotional thread running through these mostly introspective, artfully executed performances—a yearning vocal-like quality that helps account for why even the longest, most multifaceted tracks consistently cohere. Of course, Maneri’s contributions are crucial. In addition to playing viola and a key role during two improvised pieces, he wrote five of the seven compositions included here. His seemingly innate lyricism, previously highlighted in a variety of significant collaborations (Cecil Taylor, Paul Motian, et al.), is often distinguished by such a breathy, reed-like tone that you may sometimes find yourself wondering whether this four-piece ensemble is larger than it is.

At its most expressive, Maneri’s viola offers an affecting contrast to the music’s occasional intervallic leaps, percussive bursts, and keening exclamations; it also melodically sustains a series of thoroughly absorbing excursions. Even so, he’s clearly content to front what essentially sounds like a leaderless group devoted to the art of interplay. No surprise there, in light of his impressive track record and the caliber of the company he’s keeping on this session, which features two familiar collaborators—pianist Lucian Ban and drummer Randy Peterson—and the well-matched bassist John Hébert. Not to be overlooked, the album’s remaining compositions, both written by Ban, further contribute to its quietly unfolding charms (“Mojave”) and spiritual resonance (“Two Hymns”).

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Mike Joyce

A former editor of JazzTimes, Mike Joyce has written extensively on jazz, blues, country, and pop music for The Washington Post, Maryland and Washington, D.C. public television stations, and other outlets.