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Microtonal Musings : Mat Maneri On Leo

Obvious as it may be, a binding force between these two discs reveals itself in the slender mustachioed frame of one Mat Maneri. Microtonal string technician, whip-smart improviser and promising composer, Maneri's arsenal of instruments and idiosyncrasies enliven any session of which they are a part. These two dates by wildly divergent ensembles are no exception and the shared thread of Maneri's tightly wound strings runs through each with efficacious energy to spare.

Pandelis Karayorgis and Mat Maneri have shared recording mics on numerous occasions and as such have an intimate familiarity with each other's musical devices. The band assembled for Disambiguation, their latest meeting, accepts the designation of quintet from a skeptical vantage from the onset. "Case In Point" commences at trio speed as Maneri, Michael Formanek and Randy Peterson sally forth through a gliding theme. Karayorgis and Tony Malaby surface for a brief string of seconds to flesh out the dynamics before promptly dropping out, leaving only Formanek to thrum out a naked continuation of the line. Maneri's arco strings soon scurry away beneath him, measuring out wispy streaks until the baton is again passed. It's a surprising relay of ideas and one that keeps the listener guessing. Malaby's upper register palpitations shift from gossamer to acidic, matching Maneri's recondite squeals, and then it's Peterson's turn to stamp out a muscular but decidedly surly solo soaked in the vibrational static. Malaby's deeper toned horn opens "Three Plus Three" with bass and drums in tight trio formation. He sings a throaty thematic improvisation that again balloons under the full breath of the five players before deflating expressively into fractional groupings. Karayorgis' contemplative foray follows, flanked by the corpulent commentary of Formanek. Peterson's sticks join in, followed closely by Maneri's frenetic bow, meaning it becomes the pianist's turn to sit out. The effect is much like a game of musical chairs with at least one player usually left standing.

Maneri and Karayorgis meet on "Matutinal", the latter swaying in lurching arcs while the former runs up the middle and around the edges. Peterson's stammering brushes make a startling contrast for Malaby's relatively straight-toned trip through a thematic center that keeps changing guises. It's a strange mix of restraint and freedom, each man holding fast to agreed upon parameters but still finding broad range to move individually. It's a schematic that doesn't always hold the weight of its promise, as on the meandering final sections of "Matutinal" where Maneri chooses to saw away quietly rather than lay out. Formanek's elastic preface on the title track takes its sweet time building speed into a rocketing rush that signals a rare entry by the full ensemble. Maybe it's the common presence of smaller composites, but at full muster the band's comparative dynamics and momentum are breathtaking to behold. Maneri fillets the tune's head, shearing away harmonic fat that falls in ribbons onto the boiling plate of Peterson's snare. The cool logic of Karayorgis' ensuing exploration blankets with an icy balm while Maneri takes a breather. Malaby reignites the flame and suddenly everyone's back in the contest charging hard for the finish line. "Home" is heavy on Monkish flavor, especially in Karayorgis' roving right hand. Deep exhalations can be heard during Maneri's sojourn at the fore, further indications of the level of concentration he's injecting into the proceedings.

Much like the ice paintings that are another vehicle for his artistic expression Masashi Harada's music is a transitory venture dependent upon the integrity of a certain set of external circumstances. Just as paint bleeds translucent hues through the delicate crystalline boundaries that comprise his frozen canvases, the particular peculiarities of his two partners feed into the abstracted mass of his musical vision on Obliteration at the End of Multiplication. Maneri's baritone violin seems the perfect beast for this particularly fractured menagerie, slicing and dicing through the sonic thickets planted by his partners with a surgeon's skill and precision. Instrumentation suggests a fractured fusion power trio, but this band draws rigorous sustenance from a deeper, darker well. Even the quieter moments are saturated with an irascible nails-on-blackboard edge.

Plectrum raking unceremoniously across dyspeptic strings, Philip Tomasic's quick-draw guitar plugs right into the aggressive undercurrent of the trio. His stuttering fretboard runs approximate Gatling gun rapidity as fired notes fall like spent shell casings to the sonic floor. At times his method errs dangerously close to the monosyllabic, but Tomasic's talon-like scratchings always serve an indelible purpose. The excoriating shards he sends cascading down the gunnels of "Sonic Freeze" approximate the possible sound of a sea of oddly tuned comb tines set into sonorous motion by an unseen force. Harada's vocals are usually the odd man out and definitely an acquired taste. His histrionic singing ranges from strangulated glossolalia to high-pitched banshee wails—thankfully he directs the bulk of his manic attention to the more tempered regions of his trap kit.

Hiccupping starts and stops are the common denominators between tracks, as Harada's prickly pear percussion litters the landscape with volley after volley of cold-cocking debris. Maneri dives and dodges around the obdurate obstacles sawing up florid storms of his own with blurred bow and gnarled fingerings. The track "Ruthless If Necessary" seems to encapsulate both the band's credo and the regular constituents of its collective sound. Rising from a buzzing morass, Harada's shrill croon ebbs and flows in fitful lunges atop the scribbling sheets of sonic expletives as his partners funnel through their respective instruments. In sum, these three kick up quite a racket and, despite the flawed excesses that invade on occasion, it's an absorbing ride through and through.