Lucian Ban & Mat Maneri Tuba Project featuring Billy Hart at Cornelia St. Café

Tyran Grillo By

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Lucian Ban & Mat Maneri Tuba Project featuring Billy Hart
Cornelia St. Café
Greenwich Village, NY
February 13, 2016

Violist Mat Maneri and pianist Lucian Ban, whose Transylvanian Concert (released 2013 on ECM) gave listeners access to some of the most forward-thinking chamber jazz in recent memory, teamed up with drummer Billy Hart, altoist Bruce Williams, and tuba master Bob Stewart at Cornelia St. Café for a night of lightly composed, heavily improvised music.

Ban's pen yielded most of the tunes, his evocatively titled "Estonia" starting the night with twists of spontaneous reverie through Maneri's amplified viola and spinning from his harmonics a denser sound in the piano. The rhythm section, Stewart playing the part of bassist, and Williams contrasted the former's understated groove impulses with the latter's robust modality. Williams's playing was airborne at times, and like a lozenge soothed the sore throats of its surroundings with cool, as it did in "Cajun Step," an unusual, tuba-centered slink through darkness. It was Hart this time who led the way, while Ban cast his dissonant dice with verve. "Trickster" collapsed the ladder of its theme over a subtler foundation, taking shape in a private world, for a group of five.

If Maneri's soloing was a brooding pull of the curtain, a chain of microtonal integrations in the shadow of the blues, then his writing wore an intimacy found only in dancing. The ponderous, slow-motion stumble of his "Half" inspired a weeping tone from the viola that spoke of crouching, freezing, and whispering. "Dolphy Dance," on the other hand, was the set's jovial center, and comported itself like a street band rolling through a small village. Williams took the early solo, breaking horses of light with his immediate magic, before Ban fractured his melodic skeleton in search of connections. Tactile duo action between Hart and Stewart hinted at a mastery of history, if not the other way around, and parted waves with their patience.

Forlorn yet somehow hopeful, this quintet gave us a challenging vision of language and time. Theirs was a music that requires no post-production but the studio of our deepest mind, wherein unforced resonance wraps its synapses around every naked utterance. It was a chrysalis emerging from a chrysalis; a cycle of cycles; and furthermore, as Hart so humbly characterized it to me after the show, a "work in progress." But then, isn't everything?

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