A Somber Joe Maneri Tribute
It seems that more and more frequently these days, there’s a time lapse between when jazz albums are recorded and when they’re released. The Noah Kaplan Quartet’s Joe Maneri homage, Descendants, was recorded in 2008 and is out now on the estimable German label Hat Hut. As you would expect, it’s a series of free improvisations by a crew with considerable chemistry and collaborative sensitivity: alongside Kaplan, a Maneri acolyte who plays tenor and soprano sax, there’s perennially interesting individualist Joe Morris on guitar, Kaplan’s Dollshot bandmate Giacomo Merega on bass guitar and Jason Nazary on drums. The album begins with a ballad in disguise and ends with a tone poem. Melodic resolution is defiantly resisted whenever it’s hinted at, which is infrequently: an austere, sometimes acidic, frequently elegaic quality persists throughout the album’s six tracks.
The side of Kaplan that isn’t represented here is his wit: Dollshot, his improvisational chamber-rock project with his singer sister Rosalie, delightfully and often cruelly reinvents early 20th century art-song. Instead, his microtonal inflections here evoke more somber emotions, crying, quietly wailing or sirening, sliding gracefully up and down between semiquavers, often straining against the pull of a central tone that appears only by implication. And the band is doing a whole lot of thinking on their feet here along with Kaplan: there’s more pitch-and-follow than there is intricate interplay. Often it’s Merega who holds down the center or establishes a rhythm for the other group members to pull into focus and then back away from. Morris’ casually biting jangle and stinging, trebly tone are perfect for this unit, whether he’s alluding to a big expansive arpeggio, spinning out raindrops for the rest of the unit to run between, or adding incisive accents. Nazary’s presence is affectingly ghostly more often than not, often confined to ominously looming or echoing atmospherics than actual propulsion: as the album cover image (crow on a dead tree limb, stormclouds in the background) indicates, this is dark music. And it’s more or less quiet music: only one of the segments features the kind of atonal bluster commonly associated with this style of jazz. For those who play this kind of music, there’s plenty of inspiration here: the way Nazary casually punches in to fill out Merega’s insistent pulse on the twelve-minute title track; Morris circling Kaplan, and then the two switching roles, in the cold late-afternoon drizzle atmosphere of the following cut; and the mysterioso rise and fall of the waves of the band together on the final segment. People who need a catchy beat and a singalong melody will have to look elsewhere, but for those who can’t resist an album of strange, sometimes harsh, sometimes hypnotic tonalities, this is an inspiring listen. Joe Maneri, who knew a little something about that stuff, would approve.
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