Free jazz violinist Mat Maneri has recently produced a string of recordings which document his technical fluency as well as his extended abstract vision. At this point, nobody doubts his proficiency or ability to rapidly develop new ideas. His recent duet record with Joe Morris, [soul search] took the abstraction of his playing to a new and higher dimension. However, Maneri settles down a bit on Blue Decco, consciously drawing inspiration from the free jazz revolution of the '60s.
The ensemble playing here obeys a more obvious order of time and harmony than is apparent on some of his other records. For example, the title track builds off a swinging theme over a walking bass line, with arranged piano and violin parts. After clearly stating the theme (and illustrating the difference between a walking bass line and a trotting bass line), Maneri and his group take a voyage "out." In the process, they deconstruct and reconstruct the theme with solos and group improvisation. Craig Taborn's playing on the record is punchy and dense, though poorly recorded. The piano appears at low levels and tends toward a wooden sound. William Parker, of course, can do no wrong. Whether it's a walking bass line, arco accompaniment to slower passages, or repetitive thumping, he finds a time and place for everything. Of course, it's Maneri's explorations on the violin which drive the group: his use of double-stops to demarcate harmony is particularly effective.
Blue Decco is the third disc in Thirsty Ear's Blue Series, produced by Matthew Shipp (who, you would think, would have noticed the weakness of the piano sound on this recording). The fourth and final update comes to us later this year from Craig Taborn himself, who has lately demonstrated an exceptional fluidity and imagination. This series seems to be focused around taking the "pure freedom" of improvisation by today's free jazz masters and harnessing it within more obviously structured contexts. As such, these records provide a wonderful starting point for listeners familiar with the '60s material but interested in exploring the advances of the 21st century.
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