Microtonal innovator Joe Maneri was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1927, learning to play clarinet from a neighborhood shoemaker and making his professional debut on the Catskills society band circuit at age 17. Three years later, he was introduced to the work of Arnold Schoenberg, the famed inventor of the 12-tone system, and immediately thereafter formed his own 12-tone jazz ensemble, additionally performing in a number of ethnic music combos. A decade of study under composer Joseph Schmidt (himself a former Schoenberg student) followed, before Maneri came to the attention of conductor Eric Leinsdorf, who commissioned him to compose a piano concerto. He made his first recordings for Atlantic in 1963; the session went unreleased for three and a half decades until seeing release (at the instigation of American Splendor writer Harvey Pekar) as Paniots Nine by John Zorn's Avant label in 1998. In the face of recording industry indifference during the early '60s, Maneri was largely silent for the remainder of the decade, finally resurfacing in 1970 teaching theory and composition at the New England Conservatory of Music.
Exploring microtones in his subsequent compositions and improvisations alike, Joe Maneri's first officially released recording, 1991's Kalavinka, found him joined by his violinist son Mat and percussionist Masashi Harada, and marked the end of a three-decade absence from performing and recording. Two more efforts -- the Leo session Get Ready to Receive Yourself and Three Men Walking, an ECM date featuring guitarist Joe Morris -- followed in 1995. The former release, recorded in 1993, introduced many avant jazz and creative improvisation listeners to the Joe Maneri Quartet, featuring Joe and Mat joined by bassist John Lockwood and drummer Randy Peterson. Later in the '90s, the Swiss Hatology label dipped further into 1993 Joe Maneri Quartet recordings for 1997's Coming Down the Mountain and 1999's Tenderly (both featuring Ed Schuller on bass rather than Lockwood). Issued in 1997 by ECM, the Maneri Quartet's In Full Cry captured the group (with bassist Lockwood this time) recording in a German studio during June of the preceding year.
Bassist Barre Phillips joined Joe and Mat for 2000's Tales of Rohnlief and 2004's Angles of Repose, both also released by ECM. Meanwhile, in 2002 the AUM Fidelity label released Going to Church, a set of microtonal collective improvisations by the Maneri Ensemble, featuring not only the father and son Maneris, bassist Phillips, and drummer Peterson but also pianist Matthew Shipp and trumpeter Roy Campbell. On August 24, 2009, after an extraordinary life in music marked by decades under the radar and a somewhat improbable late-career performing and recording resurgence, Joe Maneri died in Boston at age 82 following complications from heart surgery. ~ Jason Ankeny & Dave Lynch