Although common in European classical music, piano and viola duos are rare in the jazz world. Even when I expanded my search to piano and violin, the pickins’ were slim (Sylvie Courvoisier/Mark Feldman.) But on October 16, about 60 listeners were treated to just such a pairing at Robyn Newhouse Hall at the Community Music School of Springfield.
The Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares concert, featuring Lucian Ban, piano and Mat Maneri, viola, was scheduled at CMSS because their piano is better than others we use, but the choice of venue could not have been more perfect. The sound was superb and the juxtaposition of elegant surroundings and regal music made it easy to dive deep into the proceedings.
With Maneri playing through a Fender Twin Reverb amp, the Duo’s 75-minute recital (including encore) was a wide-ranging affair, touching on blues, eastern European folk traditions and Indian music, refracted through a lens equal parts classical and jazz.
Ban is from the small Romanian village of Teaca, near where the Duo’s brilliant 2013 release, Transylvanian Concert (ECM), was recorded. Ban’s pride of place is reflected in the pianist’s celebration of George Enesco, a composer, violinist, conductor, pianist and teacher, and Romania’s most famous musician. Enesco’s most famous student, violinist Yehudi Menuhin, called his mentor “the greatest musician I have ever known.”
Ban met Maneri while recording Enesco Re-Imagined (Sunnyside), a gorgeous paean that Ban and John Hébert produced in 2010. From the Springfield stage, Ban recalled that at one point, Enesco’s music called for a piano/viola duet. The spark between Ban and Maneri convinced them to pursue their smaller project, one that continues to yield dividends. Their Jazz Shares concert was the first in a 13-city tour that will take them to the Earshot Festival (Seattle), Blue Whale (Los Angeles) and Western Front (Vancouver.) There is another recording in the works.
Their Sunday concert included Enesco’s Sonata no. 3, which highlighted the mind-boggling talent of Mat Maneri. I have never heard music played at such high pitch and low volume sound so rich and thick with expression. The variety of techniques he used was staggering. Shareholder Batya Sobel marveled how Maneri would bounce his bow across the strings as beginners often do. His control and mastery, however, transformed the gesture into a flute-like warble that was fresh and evocative.
Mat is the son of the late Joe Maneri, the unique reedman and long-time mentor at New England Conservatory. Joe came up in Brooklyn playing clarinet in Greek, Turkish and Jewish dance bands, wrote concertos and was a leader in microtonal music. Harvey Pekar, John Zorn and especially his son, coaxed him into the public realm, and he enjoyed wide recognition during his last 10 years thanks to a series of startling ECM records.
In October 2004, I was thrilled to present Joe and Mat Maneri as part of the UMass Solos & Duos Series. The only concert poster Mat has in his house is from that event. He fondly recalled the evening, as did his mom, Sonja, who had driven to Amherst from the family home in Framingham. I’ll always remember at the music’s end, Mat coming over to his father and kissing him on the forehead before bowing together.
Season 5 of Jazz Shares is off to a wonderful start. On to Shea Theater for the Nate Wooley Quintet.