Review: Deco Heart - Lucian Ban and Mat Maneri - at the Vortex

Deco Heart. Drawing by Geoff Winston, Vortex 2012. All Rights Reserved
Deco Heart: Lucian Ban and Mat Maneri
(The Vortex, Dalston, Tuesday 21st May 2013. Review by Andy Boeckstaens. Drawing by Geoff Winston)


This Vortex gig was the first of three British appearances by the Romanian pianist Lucian Ban and the viola player from Brooklyn, Mat Maneri. Since meeting in New York in 1999, they have played and recorded in several configurations. As a duo, Ban and Maneri are known as Deco Heart.

Much of the material at the Vortex was drawn from the pair’s Transylvanian Concert, recorded two years ago and recently issued on ECM. Shades of Monk and early Jarrett could be heard on a furiously-swinging, off-kilter Not That Kind Of Blues, and later pieces containing audacious harmonies and unresolved cadences brought to mind both Béla Bartók and Annette Peacock. On Two Hymns, there was an aching, almost Wagnerian melancholy.

Mat Maneri worked with Paul Motian for six years towards the end of the drummer’s life, and Deco Heart tackled one of his compositions from the 1970’s, Fantasm. The familiar spiritual Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen (played on unaccompanied viola) provided the most straight-ahead music of the evening. The three pieces composed by Maneri, Last Steps, Blessed and Passing, were full of restless turbulence and a subtle, agonised tension. Lucian Ban’s Monastery was very dark, despite its folk-dance jollity, and Harlem Bliss highlighted his technical aplomb and empathy with Maneri. The closing Irreverence reaffirmed the quality of the pianist’s writing.

Deco Heart wrung out not only the great seriousness of this music but also its wit and joy. The blues – often disguised and sometimes played so softly as to be virtually inaudible – were never far away. At no point during the evening was there any hint of grandstanding. The many quieter moments were the most powerful, and one was left with an overwhelming feeling of serenity.

Lucian Ban – piano
Mat Maneri – viola

Not That Kind Of Blues (Lucian Ban)
Harlem Bliss (Lucian Ban)
Two Hymns (Lucian Ban)
Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen (Traditional)
Passing (Mat Maneri)
Monastery (Lucian Ban)
Last Steps (Mat Maneri)
Fantasm (Paul Motian)
Blessed (Mat Maneri)
Irreverence (Lucian Ban)

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