Usually when people think of jazz violin, the swingy melodicism of such players as Stephane Grappelli comes to mind. Young lions? Regina Carter and Japan’s Naoko Terai. As for modernists? Well, maybe Billy Bang. But Mat Maneri does not fit into the lineage so easily, with his microtonal approach to violin and the instrument’s relatives (some materials that came with this disc make reference to violin, and others, violas). Nonetheless, he has been incredibly prolific in his recorded output and active in his participation with a diverse set of adventurous musicians.
"Sustain" brings Maneri together with bassist William Parker, Craig Taborn on keyboards, Gerald Cleaver on drums and Joe McPhee on soprano sax. "Alone (Origin)," the opening track, is, yes, a solo piece, and features Maneri adding to spacious silences with his unique approach to his stringed instruments. Maneri plucks, bows, scratches, and seems to blow across his violin to produce some very otherworldly noises. The ensemble first comes in for "In Peace," with Craig Taborn’s ring-modulated electric piano sounding like it would fit in well with one of Miles’ bands from the early seventies. Occasionally, it is difficult to immediately tell whether upper register sounds are coming from the instrument of Maneri, McPhee, or Taborn, for all of their sounds are certainly unusual, and blend surprisingly well. Tempo, melody, and overall direction of the music are in the free tradition - if you’re seeking a conventional groove, consider yourself forewarned.
"Alone (Construct)" features solo Taborn, who seems to relish this stark environment as much or more than that in the James Carter Quartet, with a take that brings to mind a sedate Cecil Taylor. The title track starts and continues quietly and ruminatively, with robust notes from the bass of Parker, spacey electric piano from Taborn, and Maneri stepping out as the lead voice more than on any other spots in this recording. It is indeed difficult to say at many points who a "leader" might be, for the spirit of this disc is highly collective. Parker gets his solo spot on "Alone (Unravel)," and Cleaver, his, on "Alone (Cleanse)." The group is at its most extroverted on "Nerve," which has the agitated feeling you might get after two pots of coffee too many. "Divine" is a nice contrast, with a somewhat lilting feel but spooky-sweet mood.