Duets between saxophonists and drummers are an important part of recorded improvisation, a distillation of action to breath and rhythm. The list is long, beginning in recorded jazz with the Sonny Rollins and Philly Jones duo reading of “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” for Blue Note and carrying on through such diverse strands as Frank Lowe-Rashied Ali, Evan Parker-John Stevens, and Mototeru Takagi-Masahiko Togashi over the ensuing decades. Add to this list an unprecedented 1964 concert at St. Mark’s Church in New York with reedman-composer Joe Maneri, known in improvisational circles for his work as a microtonal player and his long association with the New England Conservatory, and drummer Peter Dolger.
Though tapes had been circulating of this music among Maneri’s students for years, this is the first issuance of the material, its short performance augmented by a 2006 interview hosted by Stu Vandermark. In Maneri’s discography, the closest reference is the Paniots Nine session taped for Atlantic, unissued until Zorn’s Avant label released it in 1998. The single piece captured opens with spare tenor flutters joining cymbal and tom rattles, the pair feeling one another out both sonically and spatially. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the 1972 Roundhouse Concert of AMM (the Prevost-Gare edition) in both recording quality and sound environment, as well as the clearly non-idiomatic approach the pair take. The tenor’s growls, leaping and bounding across pew and steeple, coupled with off-the-bar winnowing and tart peals, make for an extraordinarily nuanced phrase vocabulary.
What adds interest is the purity of Maneri’s playing, which doesn’t have any analog—contemporary or precedent—in improvised music. Sure, one could make a case for Lester Young and Warne Marsh in his general tone, but the scales he uses are non-Western and draw from Balkan and Turkish music rather than what any New York jazz players were doing at the time. Maneri wasn’t a follower of live or recorded jazz, and his group played weddings in Jewish and Middle Eastern communities instead of clubs. Dolger is a steady partner, driving with a barrage of staccato phrases when necessary, and lying back with a loose, spare pulse as Maneri’s throaty braying stretches out in hot, demarcated blasts. This is music truly without peer, and those with a yen for improvisation’s outliers would do well to seek out Peace Concert.
~ Clifford Allen