Lucian Ban / Mat Maneri | Transylvanian Concert | ECM 2313



“Transylvanian Concert” marks an ECM debut for Romanian-born pianist-composer Lucian Ban and a welcome return for US violist Mat Maneri, in his ninth appearance for the label. The album documents a performance in the Culture Palace of Targu Mures, in the heart of Transylvania.

Ban and Maneri (both born in 1969) are improvisers whose work is informed by jazz’s traditions and freedoms and by chamber music’s structural coherence and dynamics. “Structure can be learned,” Ban says. “Freedom is more an instinct. I think there’s no essential difference between composition and improvisation. The great players erase completely the line [...] their improvisations sound like compositions and the other way around.” This can certainly be claimed for the pieces heard in the “Transylvanian Concert”: Ban’s compositions here – “Not That Kind of Blues”, “Harlem Bliss”, “Monastery” and “Two Hymns” – were created with Mat Maneri and his uniquely liquid, dark sound in mind. “Ellington always wrote for Harry Carney, not for the baritone saxophone”, Ban reminds us. “Mat and I have a telepathic understanding when we play, and much of the music takes shape as we play it.”


The seeds of the duo were sown in an earlier Ban ensemble project “Enesco Reimagined”, featuring Lucian’s arrangements of the works of his countryman George Enesco, premiered in 2009. Mat and Lucian’s intuitive interpretation in the re-orchestration of Enesco’s 3rd Sonata “in the Romanian folk character” took flight: “We started playing and the music just flowed.” After that, “we knew we had to do something as a duo. I’m glad we did, as it’s become a special and productive collaboration.”

Lucian Ban, who moved from Romania to New York in 1999, first heard Mat with Paul Motian at the Village Vanguard, “I was impressed by the fact that he always knew what to play and when to play it, and also when not to play. Silence is very important to me. Nasheet Waits recommended Mat for the Enesco project, and as soon as we started working together I was struck by his ability to make anything he plays sound both good and highly unusual at the same time.”


The “Transylvanian Concert” itself was, as Lucian Ban notes, rather “unexpected and unique”. Ban and Maneri were on tour in Europe in the summer of 2011 with a project called Tarkovsky Redux, offering musical responses to the films of the iconic Russian director. At the tour’s end, a local promoter proposed a duo concert in the Culture Palace of Tagu Mures, not far from the village where Ban had grown up. “I remember coming into Targu Mures as kid, with my grandmother, and seeing this big building in the centre of the city, never thinking that I’d get to play there. It’s a rather stunning place, built in the Viennese Secessionist style with a grand opera-like hall.” On the concluding “Two Hymns” (dedicated to the memory of Maria Voda, Ban’s grandmother) the attentive listener can hear rain thrumming on the hall’s roof, in subtle accompaniment. “It only rained during that tune.”