"This is the stuff of legend", wrote Die Zeit of Joe Maneri's ECM debut Three Men Walking, released in 1996, and other journals were quick to echo the sentiment. Subsequently, the album - also featuring Mat Maneri and guitarist Joe Morris - was a best-of-the-year selection in publications ranging from England's The Guardian to France's Jazz Magazine and Germany's Jazzthetik. Joseph Gabriel Maneri (born 1927) was suddenly and belatedly saluted as one of jazz's great originals, a strange twist of fate for a musician whose idiosyncratic microtonal improvising and composing had been resolutely ignored by the jazz establishment for decades. Three Men was not Maneri's first recording (that distinction falling to the privately-produced Kalavinka, issued on the tiny Northeastern label in 1989), but it was the first to attract a wider press attention as journalists began to recognize that Maneri, at the very least, made good editorial copy. Who else could claim a biography that included membership of a 12-tone improvising group in 1946, studies with Alban Berg pupil Josef Schmid, extended periods playing Hungarian, Greek, Turkish, Armenian and Jewish musics, a proto-free jazz and "world music" group of his own in 1961, a piano concerto commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and successive vocations as a street preacher and teacher of the only North American conservatory course in microtonal music''' Joe Maneri has walked his own path his whole life.
The trio heard on Three Men Walking came together specifically for that ECM project and has since acquired a semi-permanent identity, touring in Europe and playing regularly now on the Boston and New York jazz and alternative scenes. Maneri's Quartet, however, is the reedman's priority and has a longer history, although the precise date of its launching is somewhat foggy. With typically paradoxical flair, Joe Maneri likes to point out that he was a late arrival even in his own band, assuming leadership of it in the early 90s, some years after the unit was originally founded by his violinist son Mat; drummer Randy Peterson was also on the strength from day one. This is not the full story, however, for Persona - as Mat's band was originally called - was established on musical principles absorbed from Maneri Senior and had its genesis in a still earlier Maneri Sextet.
From childhood onward violinist Mat Maneri was entranced by his father's sound-world and his conviction of its importance has been unswerving. "Basically, I always wanted to play like my father. I was always fascinated by his compositions and by his improvising, by his phrasing on the saxophone." The microtonal grammar of Joe's music - Maneri's system has 72 notes per octave - was absorbed easily and naturally by his son.
At 14, Mat joined the Joe Maneri Sextet, a band that played the Boston bars and clubs for about two years. "The improvised style which we have now was really begun there. In that band we used to write out quarter-tone rows and rehearsed using Joe's Microtonal Studies, and I carried some of those experiments further with Persona which started out more as a mixture of jazz and modern classical music. But by the time the quartet evolved, by the time we persuaded my father to pick up his horns and come out and play again, the nature of the music had grown more organic. To me, it's a jazz band, not a 'microtonal ensemble', even if the organisation of the music is sometimes 'chamber-like'".
In Full Cry is jazz, above all, because of the sweet-sour beauty of Maneri's saxophone which, for all the "strange" phrasing, has a skewed emotional affinity to the languages of Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker and the other titans of the tradition. As for the clarinet, Maneri spells out a few influences in one of the song titles here: "Shaw was a Goodman, Peewee" and his technique and liquid sound on this instrument make him, in the words of Jazz Times, "among the top rank of improvisors in the world today."
Jazz standards also form a (small) part of the Maneris' repertoire. The successful reconstruction of "What's New" on Three Men Walking prompted them to cast their net for a partner-piece and "Tenderly" on the present disc has a comparable poignancy. For In Full Cry, Joe also plays a solo piano rendition of Ellington's "Prelude To A Kiss", a piece he has played in innumerable variations throughout his long career. The quartet also brings into play two spirituals, "Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen" and "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child". These are songs that Joe and his wife (singer/ pianist/painter) Sonja used to perform often in the early 1960s when both were active as street preachers in Brooklyn, also holding recitals and bible classes in hospices, psychiatric wards and homes for the elderly. In the present versions, "Nobody Knows" is a vehicle for Joe's clarinet and "Motherless Child" a showcase primarily for Mat's electric six-string violin.
The remainder of the album is turned over to the collective improvising that is the band's forte and which, again, is removed from the "norm" of free playing. On the one hand, the musicians honour a chamber music ideal in which all voices are crucial. On the other, Mat Maneri, Randy Peterson, and John Lockwood must reckon at every moment with Joe Maneri's extreme unpredictability and follow his lead...
Bassist John Lockwood, originally from South Africa, has toured with Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Gary Burton, and The Fringe in the United States and Europe. He has also played with Pharoah Sanders, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Joanne Brackeen, Billy Higgins, Kevin Eubanks, Pat Metheny and many other jazz musicians. He sees his role in the Maneri Quartet as an anchoring one, "finding a few good notes that can supply a centre."
Rhythm plays an important role in the Maneris' music, although pulses are more often implied than stressed. Drummer Randy Peterson seldom plays "time" but thinks in terms of phrase lengths almost in the way that, say, a tabla player might in another music and has a similarly vital interactive function and a sensitivity to tone uncommon amongst percussionists. Peterson has come a long way from roots as a blues drummer (he can be heard in this capacity backing singer Marvin Denton through a series of recordings). After moving to Boston in the mid-80s he devoted his energies to developing an individualistic approach to modern jazz drumming. In addition to his work with Persona, with the Mat Maneri Trio and the Maneri Quartet, Peterson has played with guitarists Bern Nix and Joe Morris, and with bassists Ed Schuller and Cecil McBee.