RIP Joe Maneri | Bleader

RIP Joe Maneri

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Joe Maneri
  • Joe Maneri
Singular Boston-area reedist Joe Maneri died yesterday at home at 82, his family at his side. Though he never gained widespread fame—in part because he spent most of his career in academia, teaching at the New England Conservatory of Music, and in part because his microtonal approach alienated him from standard jazz harmony as well as many potential listeners—he was a true original. He developed his own 72-tone scale (the conventional octave, of course, has just 12 steps), which made it hard to find willing and committed cohorts, but he nonetheless released a stunning stream of albums late in life.

It wasn’t till the mid-90s, when recordings on Leo, Hatology, and ECM introduced Maneri's music to an international audience, that his career as performer really took off. He was usually accompanied by his son Mat, who played electric six-string violins and violas within the same 72-tone system—a practice he carries on today—and among his other prominent fellow travelers were percussionist Randy Peterson, guitarist Joe Morris, bassist John Lockwood, and pianist Pandelis Karayorgis.

Back in the 40s, when Maneri was playing jazz and simultaneously exploring 12-tone improvisation, a noted disciple of composer Alban Berg named Josef Schmid happened upon one of his performances. Schmid because Maneri’s mentor, teaching him about Schoenberg and starting him down the path that led to his idiosyncratic microtonal system. Maneri also played Greek music to pay the bills, adding to a bizarre composite of influences. In 1998 the John Zorn-curated Avant label released a previously unissued 1963 session as Paniots Nine. The next session in Maneri’s discography dates from 26 years later.

Maneri was an intrepid improviser, and his striking solos on alto and tenor saxophone and clarinet had a weird slithering quality—the intervals between his notes were often miniscule, so his lines progressed in sensual, gliding arcs rather than kinetic steps and leaps. I’ll never forget hearing him in his Chicago debut at the Cultural Center in March 1999, where the rotund reedist, with his trademark white puff of a beard, was so visibly touched by the enthusiastic audience reaction to his music that he was caught between laughter and tears. This past May, Maneri received an honorary doctorate from NEC.

UPDATE: There were a few errors in the post above. Maneri actually died in an area hospital, not at home, and the 72-tone scale he used wasn't truly his own—it goes back centuries and was used in some Greek Orthodox church music—although he clearly repurposed it for his own music. Finally, he met Schmid through friends who were already studying with him. I apologize for the inaccuracies.

photo: C. Neil Scott

Today’s playlist:

Harry “Sweets” Edison & His Orchestra, Sweets (Verve)
Angela Maria, Angela de Todos os Temas (EMI, Brazil)
Biosphere, Wireless: Live at the Arnolfini, Bristol (Touch)
Pure, Ification (Crónica)
Khaled, Liberté (Wrasse)

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