Bassist Barre Phillips was first introduced to the father and son team of Joe and Mat Maneri on the ECM production project “Tales of Rohnlief” in 1998, and the collaboration left all participants with a keen determination to take the work further. Phillips was fascinated by the Maneris’ uniquely idiosyncratic approach to music-making, and the Maneris, from their side, felt that no other improviser had made such a strong contribution to their sound-world. It is not the easiest world for another player to enter, not least because Joe and Mat often (but not always) phrase their jazz microtonally, lingering in the cracks of the chromatic scale, and their very personal concept of ‘free music’ – developed over almost 20 years - has little to do with the European free improvisational norm, if such a thing can be said to exist. Their emotionally expressive music, while as soulful as the blues, is also the sum total of experiences that have included involvement in the widest range of musics – from contemporary classical music to half a dozen so-called ‘ethnic’ forms. Add to this the fact that both Maneris think structurally when they improvise and the challenge for an ‘outsider’ becomes formidable. Barre Phillips’ own wide-ranging background gave him the necessary tools to meet that challenge.
After the “Rohnlief” session, Joe and Mat Maneri invited Barre Phillips to join them for subsequent American touring, and Phillips (California-born and French-based since the early 70s) found work for the trio in Europe. At the end of a French-German-Austrian tour in 2002, the trio headed for the south of France and recorded in the ancient chapel of Sainte Philomène, which adjoins Phillips’ home in Puget-Ville. The session – taped by engineer Gérard de Haro (who has documented almost all of Louis Sclavis’ ECM recordings) – found the trio joined by a small audience on the last day; two tracks on “Angles” are from the live setting. For the most part, however, they were alone, responding to each other and to the charged silence and compact resonance of the church.
Where, on“Tales of Rohnlief”, Mat Maneri was playing his customized solid-body electric violins, “Angles of Repose” is all acoustic. Here Mat plays only viola, which greatly affects the group dynamics. He elicits an extraordinary variety of tones and timbres from the viola, and makes the most of its ‘vocal’ capacity (it’s often considered the string instrument closest to the human voice) in the discursive exchanges with Joe and in the cries and exultations which, with those of his partners, define what Barre calls “the striving, reaching-out quality” of the music.
“Listening back to the session, “ says Barre Phillips, who is also the album’s co-producer. “I was struck by the way in which the material divided itself into two tributaries – the music of peaceful repose or serenity, and the music of intense yearning, striving and longing to get to this other place. Coltrane’s late music had this same aching quality.”
Joe Maneri, born to Sicilian parents in New York in 1927, became a musician at 15, playing alto sax and clarinet. In the late 1940s he played with a 12-tone improvisation group formed by pianist Ted Harris and apprenticed himself to exiled Austrian composer Josef Schmid, a former associate of Alban Berg and Alexander Zemlinsky. Maneri subsidized his decade of studies with Schmid by playing Greek, Jewish, Syrian and Turkish music in bars and clubs and began to explore common ground between the idioms after coming across the microtonal music of Alois Hába. By the early 60s he was leading his own stylistically far-reaching band which threw everything into the melting pot, and writing compositions for orchestra, chamber ensembles, singers and instrumentalists. Since 1970 he has taught at the New England Conservatory, many of his students going on to become significant voices in jazz and other musics. Joe Maneri is the co-author of the book “Preliminary Studies in the Virtual Pitch Continuum” (New York, 1986). Paul Bley brought Joe and Mat Maneri to ECM’s attention in the early 1990s, and the rest, as they say, is history. Maneri’s previous ECM recordings are “Three Men Walking” (trio with Mat Maneri, Joe Morris), “In Full Cry” (quartet with Mat, Randy Peterson, John Lockwood), “Blessed” (duo with Mat), and “Tales of Rohnlief” (trio with Mat and Barre Phillips).
Barre Phillips, born 1934 in California, has been at the forefront of developments in improvised music over the last four decades. Ornette Coleman set him on his path around 1960, and on his arrival in New York, Phillips was soon working the extremes of the New Thing – playing improvised chamber music with Jimmy Giuffre on the one hand and freely expressive 'fire music' with Archie Shepp on the other (“it was just two different kinds of intensity”). He also played with Eric Dolphy, George Russell, Bill Dixon, and many others. In 1967 he moved to London and played with John Stevens' history-making Spontaneous Music Ensemble and with the South African musicians around Chris MacGregor, and recorded the first solo bass album, “Journal Violone”. In 1969 he co-founded the powerhouse group called The Trio with John Surman and Stu Martin, still widely-regarded as one of the most exciting groups of the era. The Trio appeared on Barre's 1975 “Mountainscapes” album for ECM. His first recording for the label, however, was the duo album “Music for Two Basses” with Dave Holland. After further ECM recordings with Surman, and with Terje Rypdal, and another standard-setting solo album “Call Me When You Get There”, Phillips experimented with music for bass percussion and tape on “Aquarian Rain” and mediated between Evan Parker and Paul Bley on “Time Will Tell” and “Sankt Gerold”. Based in France since 1972, Phillips has played with all the leading musicians in European improvisation, written extensively for dance, film and theatre and led numerous workshops. In 1992 he was reunited with Ornette Coleman for the Naked Lunch soundtrack.
Mat Maneri, born 1969 in Brooklyn, studied with Juilliard Quartet co-founder Robert Koff, and began playing with his father at the age of 14. Mat is largely responsible for the fact that Joe Maneri's work finally found a hearing, but he is more than his father's most eloquent disciple. Pianist Matthew Shipp has called Mat “one of the five greatest improvisers on the planet” and recognition that the younger Maneri is a figure of central importance in the music is growing. The long list of musicians with whom he has worked includes Cecil Taylor, Joe McPhee, Borah Bergman, William Parker, Joe Morris, Tim Berne, Craig Taborn, Ray Anderson, T.K. Ramakrishnan and many others. Mat Maneri has recorded widely, and led a number of groups, often with drummer Randy Peterson and, latterly, trumpeter Dave Ballou and vibraphonist Matt Moran. His ECM discography includes, in addition to the recordings with Joe Maneri, the solo album “Trinity”. Mat also contributes to “Skirting The River Road”, singer Robin Williamson's settings of Whitman, Blake and Vaughan.