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Despite its heavy-sounding title, Going to Church is really not that ominous an affair. For this recording, Mat Maneri assembled a sextet of strong improvisers for an afternoon in the studio. The result is sprawling, open-ended, and daring interplayfocused on listening, interacting, and exploring. While somber at times, it's also inventive and clever enough to surprise and delight. Unpredictability remains the prime commodity in Maneri's musical universe. (With enough space surrounding the sound, it does admittedly get quite ethereal at times.)
Since each player brings such a strong personality to the group, it's revealing to hear how they interact. Joe Maneri has made a career out of the notes you aren't supposed to play on the saxophone, and his special affinity toward bent notes and overtones shifts the group out of 12-tone complacency. Mat Maneri turns his ear toward these shifting colors and lends his own sweeps of sound, moving in and out of key but staying logical in context. The important part of this particular interaction is that these sweeps have a direction, and they emphasize a tidal flow in the music. Matthew Shipp, who's a very assertive pianist, occupies the realm of sparse dynamics, rendering himself an independent voice rather than an anchor or motor for the group. Similarly, Roy Campbell takes a more laid back stance than his usual. He aims for thick, floating sounds that swirl in the air, arcing and up down, and bouncing off other players in a very spontaneous way.
The blow-by-blow approach doesn't work very well with Going to Church, so it's key to step back a bit for perspective. This is involving stuff, and there's no point in playing it if you aren't going to listen to the music. It's got amazing spontaneity and intuition, two qualities that reward attention. This concept of freedom entails a certain amount of responsibility, and that connection becomes entirely clear only if you give this record your ears.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.