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>Pandelis Karayorgis/Mat Maneri:




Pandelis Karayorgis
& Mat Maneri

Leo Records CD LR 334, 2002

Mat Maneri, viola
Tony Malaby, tenor sax
Pandelis Karayorgis, piano
Michael Formanek, bass
Randy Peterson, drums

Recorded June 2001

available on Bandcamp

1. Case In Point
(P. Karayorgis) 8:32
2. Three Plus Three
(P. Karayorgis) 10:01
3. Matutinal
(P. Karayorgis) 8:47
4. Disambiguation
(P. Karayorgis) 11:50
5. Home
(P. Karayorgis) 9:22

Tony MalabyPandelis KarayorgisMat Maneri
Randy PetersonTony Malaby, Michael Formanek
Photos:Peter Gannushkin


This recently released outing might serve as a landmark for the new age of jazz! First off, we get to hear violinist, Matt Maneri's notorious microtonal excursions being integrated into abstractly concocted Bop style frameworks along with a few scant nods to Ornette Coleman. The co-leader of this date; pianist, Pandelis Karayorgis is no stranger to the realm of progressive jazz-based improvisation, however the real magic lies within the unique musical chemistries or personas that define the basis of this quintet.

Veteran modern jazz bassist, Michael Formanek and the rapidly rising tenor sax terror, Tony Malaby bring a variegated scope to the overall proceedings, which is evident from the onset of the opening piece titled, "Case in Point." Here, Maneri once again counters the 12-tone equal temperament system, largely due to his partitioning, or slicing and splicing of motifs atop Formanek and drummer, Randy Peterson's oscillating polyrhythms. Nonetheless, the fun really starts when the soloists' equalize their often-understated lyricism with odd-metered, Bop-ish unison choruses. Sure, they methodically dissect a plethora of mini-themes, but there's a cunning revolution taking place Listen to Malaby and Maneri's soberly executed extended note choruses, followed by a barely detectable climactic buildup on "Matutinal." The fanfare doesn't end there, as Malaby throws us for a loop via his semi-mainstream, jazz/blues soloing, while the quintet subsequently and quite astutely, tempers the flow down to a near whisper.

On the title track "Disambiguation," the musicians pursue deviously chaotic, free jazz stylizations - where Malaby and Karayorgis go on a mild rampage, amid an asymmetrical ebb and flow. Folks, there's an abundance of ideas floating around, as this band seamlessly morphs two relatively disparate yet not totally dissimilar art forms into a gleaming personalized statement.

This writer tends to shy away from (or does his best to avoid) top ten lists, although it might be judicious to create one, if only to promote the achievements witnessed on this resplendently gratifying effort. (Feverishly recommended)
Glenn Astarita, www.allaboutjazz.com

Pianist Pandelis Karayorgis and viola-player Mat Maneri play a muscular, complexly swinging jazz which derives from Thelonious Monk. In his sleevenote, Kevin Whitehead makes much of the fact that in his compositions Karayorgis avoids the head solos-head format some take to be the definition of jazz. He's correct, though it's actually by adopting the gritty, halting poise of the music discovered by Maneri's father Joe that the quartet avoid the facile sound of repertoire jazz. Randy Peterson (drums) and Michael Formanek (bass) are familiar names in this small pocket of real-jazz integrity, though the excellent tenor saxophonist-Tony Malaby- is a new arrival. He's as fluent, precise and occasionally explosive as this exacting music requires. Disambiguation is apt: at a time when "ecstatic jazz" has become a marketing label for empty bluster, this quartet's concentration on precise quarter-tones produces a new, if sombre, light.
Ben Watson, Hi-Fi News, U.K

This 2002 disc co-led by the prolific Mat Maneri seems to have slipped under the radar of alt.jazz fans, at least in comparison to the buzz surrounding two contemporary Maneri releases, Sustain and Going to Church. Maneri plays unamplified viola on the disc rather than his electric six-string fiddle, and it suits him, allowing him to work quietly around the fringes of each note, bending or feathering it with the bow; he uses a disconcertingly gradual attack rather than biting into a phrase, as if fading up on it note by note. It's a fine display of how to make your own time within time, and his companions - pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby, bassist Michael Formanek, drummer Randy Peterson - all possess the same combination of poise and mobility. Karayorgis is the composer of the five pieces on the disc, oblique boppish heads that drift in and out like spectres, independently of their surroundings. The improvisations are left free to find their own pace and mood, the players developing intricate dialogues precisely because they leave each other a great deal of space. Silence is internalized in the music, giving it a fluidity and openness to change which is the reverse of how silence functions on an ECM disc (as a mirror held up to each note). A quietly innovative disc, Disambiguation provides food for thought as well as enjoyment.
Nate Dorward, Paris Transatlantic, August 2003

*** Best to move straight on to Disambiguation , which reunites the pianist with Maneri in a scratch line ‑ up that brings out the best in both of them. Again, Pandelis's Monk influence is very evident, and he swings more easily and relaxedly than on most of his previous records. The long 'Three Plus Three' (which might be a lost Monk score) and the title ‑ piece are the most effective cuts.
From β€œThe Penguin Guide To Jazz Recordings,” By Richard Cook and Brian Morton, 8th Edition (2006)

The verb "disambiguate" is defined in Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary as follows: "to establish a single semantic or grammatical interpretation for." If applied to this disk, then, the title suggests that Pandelis Karayorgis is attempting to define his music in a single interpretation. Disambiguation is far too complex and far too worthy a disk to confine to one interpretation. Always an innovator, Karayorgis sometimes runs the risk of inaccessibility when it comes to his compositional style, which seems to focus more on the placement of sounds than the melody that those sounds create. Not so with Disambiguation, which features five musicians on five tracks that all last long enough for the listener to know, understand, and ultimately revel in each piece. Karayorgis, the quintet's pianist, is an expert at selecting the musicians who perform his works. With Mat Maneri on viola, Tony Malaby on tenor saxophone, Michael Formanek on bass, and drummer Randy Peterson, Karayorgis and Maneri have assembled a quintet marked both by talent and by an innate understanding of how each individual musician in the ensemble thinks and performs. This results in a texture-driven sound. As a composer, Karayorgis is so aware of the timbres of each instrument that his placement of notes is spot-on, and in the improvisatory sections, the musicians instinctively know when to play and what to emphasize. “Case in Point” provides a sterling example of both note placement and individual musical emphasis. The work can be likened to a Jackson Pollack painting in that while the piano and percussion provide a canvas, the viola and tenor saxophone create patterns against that canvas, and the colors of those instruments gradually merge to complete a complex musical painting. While the opening is pointilistic in style, with the viola playing few yet impeccably positioned notes, the five disparate instruments eventually come together to create a unified whole. In “Matutinal,” Karayorgis takes two wistful lines in the viola and piano and seamlessly weaves them together. Karayorgis' ability to incorporate individual melodies in such a way that the listener cannot imagine them as melodically separate enables him to write music that exudes an incredible depth of sound. His is a subtle compositional style, and the performers with whom he works – particularly Peterson in “Matutinal” – possess the sensitivity to capitalize on that style. The title track is the disk's most enjoyable one as it shows off each performer at his best. The solo work is exciting, demonstrative of the talent in the ensemble, and fun. While Maneri steals the show in “Disambiguation” as he covers the viola's range with remarkably rapid passagework, Malaby's technical wizardry on the tenor saxophone is nothing short of amazing as he jumps from guttural high notes to rich, soulful low ones. Disambiguation is a disk that should be listened to and enjoyed on multiple occasions. In spite of what Webster says, a single interpretation of this recording is simply not enough.
Katie DeBonville, New England Performer magazine

Pianist Pandelis Karayorgis has constructed five pieces on Disambiguation that are difficult to follow, but rewarding for those willing to hear them. Karayorgis devises multipart suites in such compositions as the title cut and "Three Plus Three," with segments marked by intense group exchanges, while other parts within the same song are characterized with lingering silences, lighter refrains or sweeping unison passages.
Rather than using trumpet or trombone as a contrasting voice to tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby, Karayorgis has chosen violinist Mat Maneri. Sometimes Maneri plays like a hot-jazz swinger from the late '20s, executing darting forays, sweeping lines and joyous phrases, then he'll venture into more somber, probing passages, plucking strings or bending and stretching his statements to get a pensive sensibility. Saxophonist Malaby also veers between strong, blues-drenched solos and more reflective, less intense statements.
Karayorgis, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Randy Peterson hardly comprise the traditional rhythm section. Formanek and Peterson sometimes drop out a tune at the top or near the end. Formanek can be almost inaudible, or seem to be playing an uncomplementary line to Peterson's tempo, but somehow Karayorgis holds everything together. "Home" is the one number on the disc that's closer to what can be termed mainstream jazz.
Otherwise, the quintet never does what might be anticipated, something that certainly adheres to the notion that jazz is the sound of surprise.
Ron Wynn, Jazz Times, September 2002

Easy to imagine this one - five improv guys take on bebop. Not a win exactly but an honorable away-from-home draw. These five pieces by pianist Karayorgis give a new twist to the old head-solos-head format and it works Clearly, it helps that this is a bit of an improv supergroup. Violinist, Mat Maneri, features on viola (as on last year's excellent ECM release Trinity) alongside Tony Malaby on tenor. The rhythm section is a dreamteam pairing of Mike Formanek on bass and Randy Peterson on drums. Hard to imagine a sharper line-up for this gig. Karayorgis writes well for this band. The reference points would seem to be Monk and Ornette, with more than a nod in the direction of Cecil Taylor. The sleeve notes also mention the pianist's affection for the music of Lennie Tristano. Certainly, the record gives out a generally cool, understated vibe. But this music relies primarily on the players to bring it to life Formanek's solo on 'Matutinal' or his intro to the title track reveal a bass player, who can swing as well as cope with the challenges of Free Improvisation. And Peterson has that an (sic) unusual ability to push a soloist towards their very best, while being just as adept at much quieter coloration of the music. His playing behind Malaby on Disambiguation makes the first point, as his ghostly rustling cymbals behind Maneri on Home mark out both these skills. Karayorgis inspires equally as a player and composer but in the end, it is Malaby and Maneri, whose voices linger longest in the memory. Listen to Malaby's solo set against Formanek's arco bass on 'Home'. Hear how Maneri breaks up the rhythm on 'Three Plus Three' without ever losing the dynamic that Malaby and Karayorgis have built up. There are any number of reasons for checking out this release. Maneri and Malaby are just the two most compelling.
Duncan Heining, Jazzwise, May 2002

Pianist Pandelis Karayorgis's elastic compositional structure employed on this release deconstructs the traditional notions of theme and, rather, uses thematic elements merely as a reference point for collective and solo improvisations. It is these conditions that form the basis for each musician to contribute statements without particular static compositional reference points, leading to a very personal, yet unconventional approach to the Jazz "tradition." The overall consequence is that each musician takes his time when building his statement and when the opportunity for one musician to take center stage arises, other players either adopt a supportive role or sit out completely. However sparse the music may be on most of the record, a semblance of meter remains throughout. Further, there is a depth to the music that results in newly realized nuances with each listen.

Of course, for those keeping track, Karayorgis and Maneri have been regular collaborators for a number of years and continue to explore their own muse of innovation through microtonal improvisations and a new take on "the tradition." The story here is that Maneri asked Karayorgis to write compositions to feature them, as well as two of New York s finest and respected musicians, saxophonist Tony Malaby and bassist Michael Formanek. Drummer Randy Peterson, a member of Joe Maneri s Quartet and a trio partner of Karayorgis, was a natural fit for Maneri/ Karayorgis's conception. In particular, Peterson is a sympathetic player throughout, whether matching the thunderous crescendos in pieces like the title track or his tinkling cymbal accents or brushwork behind the soloists on "Matutinal" and "Home."

Watching the deconstructive process is an engaging exercise, although it takes quite a few listens to understand and appreciate the ethos here, similar to those composers forming the obvious influence for Karayorgis: Thelonious Monk, Lennie Tristano and Andrew Hill. For example, on "Case In Point," Maneri begins with what sounds like a fluid improvisation on viola, his instrument of choice on this outing, which later proves to be a perfectly scripted counterpoint to the main unison tenor and piano theme. After theme statements, the musicians group themselves into various combinations depending on a variety of variables present at that time. Karayorgis, like Maneri, hints at the thematic elements but dances around them until the end of the composition where the remaining ensemble members join the fray. On "Disambiguation," Formanek begins with an almost two minute bass solo. The "head" theme is then played, with Karayorgis this time serving as the counterpoint to Malaby and Maneri. However, unlike most of the other compositions on this release, it is this song that provides the most tension and is closest to the turbulent segment of the improvised music sphere. Malaby particularly shines as his urgent, intense runs ignite the whole group, leading to a Cecil Tayloresque frenzy, only to wind down as a conclusion. The album ends with a somber and pensive piece, "Home." While it would be foolish to assert that Karayorgis and Maneri are "Iyrical" players, this composition features some of the most Iyrical playing I've heard by Karayorgis, who really sounds to me like his Monk/Hill colors are showing, but nevertheless, he uses these tendencies in his own unique way.

As a whole, some listeners may find this disc a tad difficult. On one hand, the sparse feel of each composition may lead one to wonder if the compositions are just too abstract. On the other hand, the thematic statements, no matter how brief or concealed, are catchy and, again, each listen does allow for a new appreciation for what Karayorgis and Maneri are seeking to accomplish. While maybe not always successful, Maneri and Karayorgis continue to march to the beat of their own drummer.
Jay Collins, Cadence, July 2002

Pianist Karayorgis has a real flair for slippery melodic and harmonic contexts that never quite settle in one place. This is the rare non-idiomatic improvising band that doesn't try to cram a million notes down a phrase. Karayorgis keeps the textures very spare both in his frequently ingenious band writing and in his piano playing. Very rarely do all the instruments in this unusual quintet play simultaneously. Violist Mat Maneri hardly plays at all in the opening pages of "Three Plus Three" as Tony Malaby ruminates on tenor, and the pianist's solo is a duet with bassist Michael Formanek, who is a rock throughout (an aside: in another journal I name checked a pantheon of younger bass players and omitted Formanek. Let me redress that omission here). Karayorgis' comping is similarly spare and propulsive; he's the modern-day Count Basie. The compositions, all by Karayorgis, have a restless, ambiguous aura. One thing proceeds to the next, but most of the things are interesting - a little bass solo here, a Dewey Redman-esque Malaby solo accompanied by sighs from viola there. In some ways, this music reminds me of Andrew Hill's compositional method, more in feeling than in structure. Monk is also recalled, especially in the way rhythm is treated. It's often, well, bouncy, as on "Three Plus Three" and the ballad "Matutinal" has that gentle hesitation-and-surge of some of the master's work. In the end, though, Karayorgis has a very original sound with an oddly touching if irresolute Iyricism. It's a quality he shares with Maneri making this twosome one to watch.
John Chacona, Signal To Noise, 2002

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.
Derek Taylor, One Final Note, May 2002

Improjazz (French) view original (gif) text

Jazzman (French) view original (gif) by Jean Buzelin

Liner Notes by Kevin Whitehead
Despite jazz musicians' undying faith in the head-solos-head format, in some of the best jazz from the beginning, forms are slippery or mutable. In the 1920s, Jelly Roll Morton made the small band into an orchestra, recombining his forces every chorus or less, to change colors, avoid repetition and keep the ear engaged. In the '60s, Cecil Taylor developed a small group music where the introduction of a new theme or section might be blurred or buried, where a thematic thread might be dropped only to be picked up again much later. Now in the '00s, Pandelis Karayorgis and Mat Maneri devise a group music just as attentive to ingenious construction and overarching ideas, and just as individual in sound.

In a way, Disambiguation is a cubist portrait of the head-solos-head format. That framework survives despite ingenious distortions and disguises. As with Morton, the quintet breaks up and recombines, varying the ensemble density, temperature and tone. As with Taylor's unit structures, transitions between sections are not always easy to spot. (For a transition so concise it barely registers, go to 6:24 on "Disambiguation": Maneri caps a bowed solo with one pizzicato note, setting up the first strike of a piano hammer in Karayorgis's solo.) Entrances and exits are habitually muted; players sneak on and off as quietly as possible; some improvised stuff sounds scored. The music's also unusually attentive to depth-of-field. An instrument might assume a faraway background role: Randy Peterson's faint cymbal rustling behind the viola solo on "Home," or ghostly viola and tenor behind the bass solo on "Matutinal." Or one section or instrumental combination might crossfade into another, cinematically.

Jazz is also about what you don't play, as the co-leaders know well. Karayorgis plays Monk; Maneri came up in the bands of one Joe Maneri where the instrumental texture can get thin as a rumor. But even here Mat and Pandelis pursue that line a little further: I can't think of another themes-and-solos jazz record where drums lay out for almost four minutes, as on "Case In Point." The themes themselves perfectly set up the slide-out-from-under-you variations. On first listen to "Case In Point," you can't tell if the viola opening is scripted or improvised. Only when it begins to repeat, at :34, can you confirm it's written-just at the moment you're distracted from it, by a second, faster, catchier theme which is superimposed on it, in effect making the viola part its countermelody. (The first theme becomes the second theme's second theme?) The slow and fast heads reach a rapprochement of sorts in a viola/piano duo, minutes down the line; the twinned themes return at the end in double-time. (Call that twinning Mengelberg counterpoint: two melodies are better than one.) As for the wispy contrapuntal action, passing harmonizations and synchronized shrieks head from viola, tenor and piano between the five and six minute marks-that's all improvised.

Crossfades, distant sounds, hidden or simultaneous themes: the old piano improviser Charles Ives's ideas are in the air these days too, finally. This is what jazz should be like at the dawn of its second century: deft and complex without making a big fuss over either quality.

It's not beginner's luck, that's for sure. Pandelis Karayorgis and Mat Maneri have recorded together for years-in duo, trios, a quintet with altoist Eric Pakula, and as sidefolk with Guillermo Gregorio-but Disambiguation is their most mature statement yet, not least because of the exceptional talent on tap. Drummer Randy Peterson was an obvious choice; he's in the pianist's trio, where timing is wide open to discussion, and has long played with Mat in Joe Maneri's quartet. His sensitivity to dynamics-swoosh lightly, thwack hard, don't fear silence-invites his bandmates to shade their dynamics as well.

Those three come out of the Boston scene. Mat started running into or with Tony Malaby and Michael Formanek after he moved to New York in 1998. (Maneri and Malaby play in Mark Dresser's quartet.) Something else happened in '98 which would decisively influence this music. Mat Maneri, electric six-string violinist, was at an ECM showcase in Germany when an after-hours jam broke out. Naturally he wanted to join in, but his amp was locked away. A classical violist kindly lent him a splendid instrument she'd been trying out, and the lower pitch and beefier sound-a bit closer to tenor saxophone, say-caught his ear, and other ears too. ECM's Manfred Eicher asked him to play viola on a solo CD, so Mat bought one and took it up in earnest. "Live, I need an amplifier to go up against the drums. But in the studio, I play it totally acoustically, which is very refreshing. Amps don't translate the dynamics of acoustic instruments well; all the dynamics here are regulated with the bow."

Maneri had the idea to ask Karayorgis to write pieces for a quintet date, with Malaby and Formanek already in mind. Most of them had played together somewhere or other, excepting Pandelis and either New Yorker, but he was ready.

Pandelis Karayorgis: "Setting out to do this recording with little rehearsal time available, I decided to arrange the pieces in a way I never would for a working band. In a group that develops over time, creating form via instrumental pairs, trios and solos and so forth evolves naturally. Not having that luxury this time, I arranged such episodes myself, striving for a variety of combinations and the varied interplay that results from breaking down the quintet into smaller groups. We discussed some simple guidelines at the outset, but of course many of the details were decided by the musicians-including whether or not to implement a pre-planned structure.

"Although I wrote and arranged the music, the choice of material, the general direction and the choice of players were all planned jointly with Mat. The foreground-background relationship and the use of space are things we've actively discussed and developed, in the context of our own musical research, listening included. You can hear it on other records he or I have made, especially with Randy on drums."

Maneri's stealthy approach to viola, and his way of developing a solo out of the end of a melody-so the improvisation feels like an extension not paraphrase of it-set the tone for the whole date. As Mark Dresser had already figured out, Maneri and Malaby are well-matched. Tony's tenor can fade away into high overtones much like viola: witness his sustained falsetto, soloing on "Home." But that's just one aspect of his sonic plasticity. With Malaby too, sensitivity to his own dynamic levels within a line raises possibilities for everyone.

Any New York jazz lover quickly learns to value Michael Formanek's accuracy, creativity and commitment to the job at hand; he's also had long experience dealing with improvised structure in various groups including Tim Berne's and his own. He swings too. His ability to blend arco bass with viola or tenor is the kind of asset that turns an ad hoc assembly into a real group-a "working" group, no matter how short the shift. The cat-and-mouse, hook-up-and-diverge strategies used by the rhythm duo and rhythm trio get the game off on the right foot, beat by beat.

The pianist's first records declared his affection for Monk and Tristano-polar opposites in many ways, which makes them a good pair of influences: to reconcile them you have to forge your own style, mediating between extremes. That's how it worked out this time anyway. Monk laid themes bare by stripping away all excess; Tristano loved the headlong topple of an uninterrupted line, and heads that sound improvised. All those ideas are in here too; that second theme on "Case In Point" shows exactly how compelling a Tristanic tumble remains.

Ives, Jelly Roll, Monk, Lennie, Cecil-that's a rich legacy, whether they're old favorites or subliminal influences. To make something out of all that, and any other stray good idea that comes along, including one's own, you have to give in to the impulse toward synthesis and transformation that birthed jazz in the first place. Disambiguation succeeds on that rarefied level where compositions, orchestration, improvising strategies and individual talents all work toward a unified effect. The band make some mighty fine music while they're at it too.
Kevin Whitehead, Chicago, October 2001


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