A Master Improviser Is Remembered With Masterly Improvisation
That’s probably a reason for the sting of his absence, still, among those who knew him well. It was surely a reason for the poignancy of a three-hour tribute at the Irondale Center in Brooklyn on Tuesday night, what would have been his 83rd birthday.
It was a family affair. Mr. Maneri’s widow, Sonja, spoke touchingly, and each of his three sons made musical contributions. Sal, the oldest, sang “A Prelude to a Kiss” in a disarming baritone croon; Abe, the youngest, played a broken hymn on electric piano. (We’ll get to Mat.)
There were testimonials from former students and fellow players, most of them recalling the moment they met Mr. Maneri as if relating a conversion narrative.
Mr. Maneri was a pioneer of microtonal theory, specializing in a pitch spectrum ungoverned by the tempered scale. Much of the evening’s music reflected that conviction.
Mat Maneri, a violist, had a lot to do with this: he was the person who worked most with his father, often with the bassist Ed Schuller and the drummer Randy Peterson, who both joined him for a tantalizingly brief improvisation, and later served as a house rhythm section.
Mat Maneri took part in a few other potent groupings, including one —with the clarinetist David Rothenberg, the cellist Daniel Levin and the bassist Barre Phillips — that distantly evoked his father’s early experience in klezmer bands. Another grouping melded his viola with Katt Hernandez’s violin, as Craig Taborn rummaged in a lower register at the piano. And yet another, more dronelike and rhythmic, had Mike Rivard on sintir, Tom Halter on trumpet, John Medeski on melodica and Keith Yaun on guitar.
Microtonality can sound warped and uneasy, like a record left out in the sun. The tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby got at this feeling, with some meticulously bleary playing. So did the trumpeter Joe Karten, in a duet with the vibraphonist Matt Moran, and the pianist Matthew Shipp, rumbling in conjunction with Mr. Peterson.
But the shining example came courtesy of “Osanj,” a Joe Maneri composition for solo viola. As played by James Bergin, it was slow-moving and engrossing, like a shifting of cloud patterns. (Mr. Bergin is the executive director of the Boston Microtonal Society, which Mr. Maneri established, and which received the evening’s proceeds.)
What about Mr. Maneri’s singular oddness? There were traces in a home recording he made, which had him speaking in tongues. (He used to do this onstage too.)
And at the concert’s close, there was the rustle of an ad hoc ensemble as Abe Maneri, reciting a poem, kept invoking “my miracle-man dad.” Mat Maneri drew a bow across his viola then, producing a ghostly high note that shot through the haze, like a headlight’s beam.