This 1998 recording features the intimate communication of a father and son team working from papa Joe Maneri's now trademark system of microtonal improvisatory investigation. Mat being a violin virtuoso is a fine foil for his father's reeds and piano playing. Between written and spontaneous compositions, the duo looks for seams, cracks, lines, and scrapes in the body of sound, in the skeleton of a tune in the wavering tones of one another's sounds, and fills them with music from another realm, one that is not cerebral, but from the heart. Of the 12 selections here, there are four that hold all the secrets of the album within them. They are Mat Maneri's "Blessed," which holds the microtonal balance of the strings against an investigative run by Joe on tenor. The droning sounds like a sorrowful song, as Joe moves toward the piano and adds single notes, brightly colored on this backdrop. Maneri the younger changes the dynamic, first of the drone, and then the tonal body of the tune, shifting it into a series of steps and measures where pitch becomes the consideration of the piano. And then there are the two "covers," a ghostly "Body & Soul" that carries within it more emotions and tension than its authors could ever have envisioned, and the traditional "Never Said a Mumblin' Word." Maneri's extended chard voicings create the microtonal panel by which Mat is capable of entering a melody on bass violin. He plays it from the harmony first, and fleshes it out, leaving the piano to accent his construction. It's as lonely and forlorn as any version you've heard, but sounds nothing like any of them. Finally, there is the 11-minute "From Loosened Soil," which carries within it all the original elements of Joe Maneri's system, but it is no academic treatise. This is the most intimate piece on the record, where father and son dance with and through one another, they touch upon tonalities, delve into them together and apart, and agree on framework in which to play them based on what comes next. The phrasing is close, taut, and full of intensive listening and economy. But the jazz element, never far from Joe Maneri's playing, is an echo from Jimmy Giuffre's investigations with Steve Swallow and Paul Bley. These four glimpses reveal how wide the tonal world of the Maneris' really is. It has within it the basis of a new study of harmonic improvisation, and a manner of execution and construction that show respect and tenderness not only toward one another as family, but to the music they approach with the sole intention of changing it from the inside out. Blessed is remarkable for its close dancing with the infinite.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek