Review: Deco Heart at Vortex (Ban/ Maneri/ Parker)

Lucian Ban, Evan Parker, Mat Maneri at the Vortex, 17 May 2012.
Drawing by Geoffey Winston. © 2012. All rights reserved

Deco Heart
(Vortex, 17 May 2012; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

This was the first of an exclusive three-night UK tour by Deco Heart, the New York-based duo of Transylvanian pianist, Lucian Ban (piano) and Brooklyn-born violinist, Mat Maneri (violin), ahead of the anticipated release of a debut album on ECM.

On this occasion they were joined by Evan Parker (tenor sax) for an evening of beautifully balanced trio improvisations. Parker had played previously with Maneri, but this was his first encounter with Ban, warmly received by a packed house at the Vortex.

Both Ban and Maneri had come to improvised jazz from classical backgrounds. Ban was brought up in Romania under an oppressive régime which branded jazz musicians as political dissidents, where an enlightened mentor introduced him to recordings of the leading jazz musicians, eventually enabling him to lead jazz groups in his home country. Maneri is from a family which has jazz in its blood – his father, Joe was an innovator on saxes and clarinet and documented the microtonal techniques that he evolved, and they recorded together several times on ECM.

The trio had such a clear and unfettered musical understanding that they could allow themselves an uninhibited musical quest throughout their two brightly defined sets, building a sequence of lightly cast, yet consistently unpredictable vignettes. In some ways the magnetic interplay had the ring of Prospero’s Isle – ‘full of sounds, strange noises and sweet airs that give delight’. Just when they had alighted upon one theme, whether folk, blues, classically-tinged, Ellingtonian or atmospherically ethereal, they would juggle with it and turn it round to follow a new direction sparked by their telepathic curiosity.

Ban, who might have claimed the limelight on the strength of his recent jazz explorations of Enesco’s oeuvre, took on a democratic, inclusive role. He threw in fresh possibilities, damping the piano wires, pushing out low bass figures, or spinning lightning runs up the keyboard. Maneri, referring to notes and scores, extracted studied minor cacophonies from the violin, deliberately jarring, liminal and informal, while Parker added depth, resonance and a lightly-worn authority in swinging rambles, jittering calls and the lightest of breathy utterances.

There was a deceptive ease to the flow of the trio’s responses as they strove to sound each other out. The individual contributions melded to form the trio’s combined voice, as they bounced off each other with a freshness maintained by concentration and awareness. The shared language just kept evolving. Enchanting off-beam duets and raw solo spells mingled with abstract, impressionistic sketches. Touches of deep poignancy were imbued with hints of echoes across mountainous landscapes. Yet there was always the chance that all that had been evoked would evaporate in an instant – which was the essence of the memorable spell that the trio wove – as Dolphy memorably said, ‘after it’s over, it’s gone, in the air.’

The evening was generously sponsored by the Romanian Cultural Institute.

Deco Heart

Lucian Ban: piano
Mat Maneri: violin
with Evan Parker: tenor sax

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