“The first problem I had to solve was how to play jazz on a string instrument. I knew about Stéphane Grappelli, of course, but I wanted to be able to play like the major forces in jazz, like Miles Davis or John Coltrane.”
Mat Maneri, a leading improvisational voice of his generation, was born in Brooklyn in 1969. He began studying the violin at the age of five, but since borrowing a viola for a jam session at the 1998 ECM festival in Badenweiler, he has made the viola his instrument of choice. Important influences on Maneri’s work – in addition to all the major forces of jazz – include Baroque music (which he studied with Juilliard String Quartet co-founder Robert Koff), Elliott Carter, and the Second Viennese School of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, which was also of central importance to his father, the late, great saxophonist, clarinettist, composer and educator Joe Maneri. Of his studies with Koff, Mat Maneri has said: “Studying Baroque music helped me to find my sound. [Koff] brought me into the world of contrapuntal playing and a way of using the bow that sounded more like a trumpet, like Miles, to my mind.”
Jazz writer Jon Garelick has written of Maneri’s distinctive style: “Maneri’s virtuosity is everywhere apparent – in his beautiful control of tone, in the moment-to-moment details that unfold in his playing, in the compositional integrity of each of his pieces, in what visual artists might call the variety of his ‘mark-making’: spidery multi-note runs, rhythmically charged double-stops and plucking, subtle and dramatic dynamic shifts.”
Maneri’s ECM discography includes his solo violin and viola recording Trinity, five albums with Joe Maneri in duo, trio and quartet formations, and three discs with Scottish singer, poet, harpist and guitarist Robin Williamson (Skirting the River Road, The Iron Stone and Trusting in the Rising Light). For the Transylvanian Concert, recorded in the Culture Palace of Targu Mures in June 2011, he teamed up with Romanian-born pianist-composer Lucian Ban for what Maneri describes as “a special and productive collaboration”. John Fordham in the Guardian praised its “melancholy beauty” combined with “plenty of wayward exuberance”.