The fourth track of this record is “Blessed,” composed by Mat Maneri. It is slower and quieter than any funeral dirge, and more somber. Lucian Ban places isolated piano notes like pale dots of light amid black silence. When Maneri’s hushed viola enters, you think he might connect those dots, and you hope for meaningful interaction. But Maneri stays in his own quivering, creaking domain. At first you cannot be sure you are hearing Evan Parker’s saxophone, but its breathy murmuring eventually ascends to audibility. You strive to perceive patterns, and sometimes you think you notice Parker returning some portion of a Maneri phrase, or Ban’s fragments implying skeletal counterpoint with the other two voices. “Blessed” provokes curiosity because you have rarely heard a piece of music so perversely uneventful.
The problem is that many listeners will never get to track four. Whereas “Blessed” has a notated melody, however evaporative, the first three tracks are free improvisations. They are as turgid as “Blessed,” but more random and even less attractive. Those who hang in until track seven will hear an actual interesting form composed by Ban, two separate lines (in separate hands) weaving and intersecting. It is “Polaris,” for piano only. But the next piece, “Scilence,” entirely improvised like most of the album, is more painfully ponderous navel contemplation by the trio.
Parker is an elder statesman of the European avant-garde. Maneri and Ban have done valuable work in the past. But Sounding Tears is a wrong turn into a dead end. It may be an experiment in removing from free jazz two of its key elements, amplitude and energy, in order to generate rapt three-way codes. Yet it fails because it forgets that jazz must be created not only to amuse the players but also to fulfill an audience.
Preview, buy or download songs from the album Sounding Tears by Mat Maneri on iTunes.