On Pentagon, his tenth album as bandleader, avant-jazz violinist Mat Maneri orchestrates a cooperative unit whose wide-open pieces move from classical placidity to washes of Miles-like fusion and wobbly snippets of New York hip-hop. Under the implied umbrella of political discord (as evinced by titles such as “War Room” and “America”), Maneri’s ensemble works as a mass of explosive contortions, threatening at times to tumble over the precipice into unstructured play but always returning to rest on the rolls of drummer Tom Rainey.
“Witches Woo” nods to Miles, but its framework feels more elastic than that of the rhythmic nuggets flavoring Davis’s 1970 staple. The piece enters atop the electronic bubbles of Craig Taborn‘s laptop, steadily winding its way through a wavering haze of Fender Rhodes runs and distorted trombone work with a background scarred by the eerie bays of Maneri’s violin. The album’s only missteps are the functional but ultimately misguided hip-hop beats of “Inslut” and “Howl in My Head,” where Maneri’s saxophonist father Joe, a longtime performer and instructor in the web-like improv community, colors the proceedings with his own nearly atonal alto squeal.
Still, this piece, like Pentagon as a whole, is illogically accessible, as long as the listener’s sensibility allows for heavy doses of controlled chaos. Bookended by relatively serene orchestral flourishes, the album’s body is a blend of expert interplay and electronic manipulation, perhaps a peak example of work within the fringes of the present-day New York jazz family.