Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Goodbye, Joe Maneri
And the improvised music world has lost another genius who sought to turn time into nothing: Mr. Joe Maneri passed away yesterday at the age of 82. I'm sure many of his many students and acolytes will be able to eulogize him in far greater detail than I ever could. My exposure to his music was minimal, but what I heard touched me deeply. Some years back I listened obsessively to a 1995 Leo disc called Get Ready to Receive Yourself, which teamed Joe with his son Mat, bassist John Lockwood and drummer Randy Peterson. Obviously I've heard all the hoopla re: Maneri's allegiance to microtonal music, but I'm not schooled enough to have any clear idea of what that means. To me, what Maneri's music sounded like was SLIDING. The quartet on the aforementioned CD played like it was swaying underwater. I don't think I've ever heard jazz sound more fluid or--and this term isn't meant in any derogatory sense--lazy.
And for all the saxists whose sounds have been compared to crying, Maneri was the one who sounded most like he was sobbing when he played. His lines were like hoarse, slow-motion laments. It was a devastating soundworld that his band created, abetted in no small part by Peterson, one of the world's strangest and most revelatory drummers, a player who looks and sounds like he's wobbling on a tightrope as he plays--the perfect complement to the leader's woozy time-sense.
When I think of Joe Maneri, I think of the one time I saw him live at Tonic, his singularly roly-poly body seated at the piano and him babbling in those weird tongues that he used to favor. (I remember running into a co-worker there who played bebop sax in his spare time. He had heard that Maneri was a legend, but the show itself left him quite disgusted. I think he walked out.) But that visual image couldn't compare to my sonic memory. I haven't listened to Joe Maneri in a few years, but I can hear him in my head plain as day, sobbing and sliding along, serenading a weird muse that spoke to no one but him.
P.S. Maneri's own site is woefully out of date, so try this detailed interview by JazzWeekly's Fred Jung if you're curious to learn more. [Update: There's also a lengthy Jazz Times piece by Harvey Pekar. Haven't had a chance to dig in, but I'm psyched to do so. Pekar used Maneri's music in the film version of American Splendor.]