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Maneri Ensemble - Going To Church

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Artist: Maneri Ensemble

Album: Going To Church

Label: AUM Fidelity

Review date: Sep. 30, 2002

Lumbering Microtonal Blues

Going to Church is credited to the Maneri Ensemble, and right now, the Maneri with the highest profile among Dusted readers is certainly violist/violinist Mat. And sure enough, Mat Maneri does contribute his trademark twisting, sighing viola lines to this record, but the Maneri who features most prominently here is Mat’s father Joe.

Joe Maneri still isn’t especially well known in the U.S., even in free jazz circles, which may be partially due to the fact that he’s an older man who’s only been releasing recordings for about a dozen years. But it’s probably also because of his actual playing style, which is about as inaccessible as free jazz gets (despite Joe’s touching pleas to the contrary, available here: www.jazzweekly.com/interviews/maneri.htm). His work on saxophone and clarinet isn’t inaccessible in an Albert Ayler/Pharoah Sanders hide-the-children sort of way, and neither is it at all emotionally detached. But Joe’s playing is foot-draggingly slow, and it often sounds unsure—his phrases often expand and contract quickly, and he spends much of his time (intentionally) wobbling between the twelve equal-tempered tones to the octave used in most Western music. The first time I heard his playing, it sounded a little like a drunk person repeatedly trying to say something that would be easy to pronounce while sober. The more I listened, though, the more it sounded like Joe Maneri had found a new and beautiful way to play the blues.

Along with the two Maneris, Going to Church features pianist Matt Shipp, trumpeter Roy Campbell, veteran ECM bassist Barre Phillips and frequent Maneri family collaborator Randy Peterson on drums. Shipp’s presence is surprising, because his instrument doesn’t allow him to imitate Joe’s wavering approach to pitch. Shipp’s playing is effective, though, because he mostly stays out of the way, adding slow, unsure-sounding chords while allowing Joe to lead. Still, Shipp and Campbell’s contributions mean a lot—unlike some Joe Maneri recordings, Going to Church isn’t filled with tense pauses. Instead, the entire band seems to lumber like a drugged elephant, collectively lurching to and fro in tentative, yet weighty, steps. Both Joe and Mat Maneri are in especially fine form here, circling around each other with woozy, wounded lines.

The entire album feels both mournful and massive—listeners who haven’t heard Joe Maneri’s work before may find themselves focusing more on his microtonal approach to pitch than anything else. But after a few listens, the sadness in his playing becomes unmistakable. Going to Church would easily be among my favorite new jazz recordings if it hadn’t been recorded in June of 2000; the only downside to this album is that it’s taken so long to find release.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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