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As a reviewer, it's vitally important to resist the urge to compare two albums that, on the surface, have so much in common. While both Distich and Minamo share the relatively unique pairing of viola or violin with piano in an improvised setting, they strike markedly divergent creative paths. They're as dynamic and unique as any nuanced conversation between friends.
Although in complete musical agreement, pianist Denman Maroney and violist Mat Maneri spar good-naturedly on "Doublet , the fifth track of Distich. Maneri's five-string viola bobs and weaves through a volley of clipped piano lines and sharply accented dyads before he's finally allowed to emerge, sounding a series of long, doleful strains before dropping back into the fray. The duo strikes a satisfying balance throughout the album, challenging each other musically while maintaining an astounding level of cohesion.
Those familiar with Maroney and Maneri's previous work won't be surprised to hear the other-worldly sonic effects conjured throughout the album's nine tracks extended techniques are second nature to both men. Maroney leans over to pluck strings and hammer notes as often as other pianists step on the sustain pedal and Maneri is right there with him when the mood is right. On "Match , the duo are once again in the thick of a cat and mouse game when Maroney smothers a high run with his left hand; Maneri doesn't hesitate to dampen his own strings while tapping a rhythmic counterpoint on the body of his viola. This moment, a climax in a performance of lesser merit, is only a preface to the gorgeous, meandering ascent that is the wrenching finale.
Pianist Satoko Fujii and violinist Carla Kihlstedt launch into what could be a dramatic finale a mere three minutes into "Remembering Backwards , the opening track of Minamo. The improvised piece, driven largely by a series of bassy ostinatos from Fujii, is fodder for Kihlstedt's virtuosic violin. She contrasts Fujii's convulsing lows with screaming sustains at the top of her instrument's register; she mercilessly probes the dense air with blinding runs before seeming to vanish, moments before a crashing conclusion, beyond the aural realm.
Fujii and Kihlstedt employ extended techniques on "Remainder of one, Reminder of two , the episodic concluding track. In this case, the effects come off sounding calculated though no less compelling for it and the resulting music sounds almost as if it were written. Against a gorgeously cascading line from Fujii, Kihlstedt's violin pauses at a precipice before plummeting down to a brilliant low-note and a haze of swirling harmonics. The duo gracefully vacillate between supporting and soloist roles throughout the duration of the 26-minute improvisation, avoiding predictable climaxes and allowing their conversation to run its natural course.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.