About 35 years before the current crop of downtown New York improvisers -- such as Don Byron, Pachora, and John Zorn's Masada -- were melding free jazz with world musics like Klezmer, and Greek, Eastern European, and Arabic modalities, there was Joe Maneri. Paniots Nine includes a demo made for Atlantic Records in 1963 by the saxophonist/clarinetist/composer and his working band at the time: pianist Don Burns, bassist John Beal, and drummer Pete Dolger, who were all interested in free jazz, and 20th century classical music (Maneri had already been commissioned to write a piano concerto for the Boston Symphony, and all had played weddings, from Turkish to Jewish). The sound quality is not digital, but more than acceptable considering it was taken from a copy of a reel-to-reel tape.
This album is revelatory, capturing the use of weirdo time signatures like 9/8 in soloing and improvising, laced through with strange intervals and mode changes, and full of joy and drama. The boundaries blur between Eastern European wedding music and free jazz. The whirling clarinets and bowed bass played against a drummer who refused the traditional (in jazz, anyway) concept of rhythm in favor of counterrhythm atop the entire band, with the piano trailing in a rush. Of the eight pieces here, five are Maneri's, and he is the undisputed leader of this ensemble. His soloing shows not only a wealth of knowledge and a command of the instrument, but razor-sharp listening focus. Joe Maneri is a well-respected teacher who counts many creative musicians among his former students. He has in recent years resumed a performing career and commenced recording with the ECM label (those records smoke too). Paniots Nine provides the chance to hear his already well-developed ideas put into practice, and it is a delight.