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Saturday, August 10, 2019

Matthew Shipp & Mat Maneri - Conference of the Mat/ts (RogueArt, 2018) ****½

By Olle Lawson

“Conference. noun.

A meeting for discussion; the act of conferring/consulting together; especially on an important or serious matter.”

Arriving here in a direct line from the unique Vessel in Orbit (led by the ever wonderful drummer Whit Dickey with Matthew Shipp on piano and Mat Maneri on viola); an album and live entity of free music so emotive and transportive, that I was hooked.

‘Conference’ is a reunion of the Mat/ts, sans drums.

The Vessel LP came with its own hermetic interstellar/space travel concept and was powered forward by Dickey’s singular free rhythms but here we have a more terrestrial, human, ‘dialectic of minds’ between old friends, who just happen to resonate at the highest levels of (free) musical creation.

Matthew Shipp needs no introduction in these pages.

Mat Maneri, son of the late alto-sax player Joe Maneri – a proponent of complex microtonal theories, subdividing the octave into 72 equal tones – plays viola and can converse in this ‘virtual pitch continuum’ language. But fear not – this is living, vital music and as Joe once commented: “We don’t use theories when we play. We can’t. We are those things.”

The album comes almost completely stripped of context: the uniform Gallimard-influenced RogueArt cover, no artwork; without individual titles (Conference #1 - #13) – all we get is some pitch perfect Dalachinsky liner notes/poetry and an hour of pure music; of how that makes us feel and the visions that are summoned, is up to us.

Conference #1. Opens things gently with subtle chords of emotion from Shipp’s plaintive melody, unformed memories float as Maneri enters the dialogue, there is a feel of moving around one another; sounding out, before the woozy technique of bowing multiple tones simultaneously evokes a seasickness. Then a sudden resolution coalesces in three repeated ascending piano lines.

C#2. Is a ‘jazzier’ affair and as austere as the music can become here, there is always a present undertone of the tradition.

C#3. Warmer sounding piano floats and wobbles until the drama kicks in at the two minute mark, escalating tension rises before abating into evolving passages of spontaneous narrative. Deep abstraction opens into raw subjectivity: fossilised wood, interlaced frozen cobwebs of sound; wooden granite; structural abandonment. Almost filmic, this piece evolves into a cycle of repeated tensions, only to return to a mellifluous flowing melody.

C#4. Beginning with more attack from the piano, a short bouncing freejazz, the viola dances, biting back, rallying and mocking until pushed under weight of keys. The coda rolls and pushes – klezmeric – a sprightly duel that without warning finds an opening and crumbles to a stop.

C#5. Tumbling, driving piano leads for the first half before flowering into a more dynamic interplay; a shifting spatial feeling like moving through a series of interjoined rooms.

Timelessly contemporary in sound, the album delves deeper as the pieces become longer and more involving, culminating in an austere warmth of dark veined beauty. The imagery – diverse, sometimes older and unsettling: like whispered thoughts in a forest, something strangely pastoral, 19th century port-town swagger dances, dry stone walls, vines grown through wooden frames; oil on dark water, a fever dream in dry grass. As Jim Clouse who recoded the album notes: “like an empty hospital or circus where all the inhabitants have vanished” – there is melancholy and loss here, confined in a shared depth of feeling.

Conference #8. Rains notes, a cat shadow dance.

C#9. Opens to a more sedate narrative before hitting three minutes and comes swooping in with nautical swirls and bass-end drops.

C#10. Viola beginnings, an Arcadian dance of sorts, tipped off balance with a see-saw piano beat. Matt solos into a stop/start interplay of single punched notes, a striding gallop ramps tension as Mat’s bow serrates strings.

C#12. At less than two minutes – a violent stagger and scrape amongst stripped timber beams of jazz rhythm.

C#13. Works as an elliptical companion to the opening piece but with a tone of decaying valediction, ending in a coil of acoustic static.

A unique album. At times fraught, challenging, intense yet playful; its spacious abstraction – both musical and visual – wide open to interpretation.