Ya Gotta Break the Shells

Ladies and Gentlemen, 20 Years Ago Today…

Tomasz Stanko’s New York Quartet December Avenue (ECM)

The deep collaboration between the members of Tomasz Stanko’s New York Quartet makes the music on its second album both a pathway to pleasure and an opportunity for solace, but truly it’s the tone and timbre of the leader’s horn that’s most fetching. The 74-year-old trumpeter continues to burnish his already earthy sound, and its character morphs in intriguing ways on this jewel of a date. It can be hollow and eerie, frisky and wry, grave and elastic. Often on December Avenue, it forwards long tones whose presence somehow underscores the subtleties constantly being rendered by his rhythm section.

The Polish bandleader has embraced a scad of US players in the last few years. Craig Taborn, Jim Black and others have gone through the ranks of his New York Quartet. But for recording, he’s settled on a squad that’s expert at both rumination and buoyancy. Pianist David Virelles, and drummer Gerald Clayton helped him make 2015’s Wislawa; bassist Reuben Rogers replaces Thomas Morgan for this new date. Together they’re adept at basking in the attractions of mood while leaving ample room for some nu-bop frolic. There’s about a 70/30 split for those particular directions here, and the shifts between them are beveled enough to create a string of revealing transitions.

A bit of Lester Bowie cackle marks the animated passages. Stanko gets frisky on the title cut, and while the action is all quite measured, the refinement doesn’t preclude anyone from searching for some friction points (Cleaver is key to this process). Perhaps more telling are the moments of reflection. “Cloud,” “Blue Cloud” and “The Street of Crocodiles” all find the foursome waxing instinctual while establishing a rich atmosphere. Fetching stuff, absolutely.


Arto Lindsay Cuidado Madame (Northern Spy)

Arto Lindsay believes, for the most part, we’re pretty damn good at multitasking. So when his Ambitious Lovers outfit began fusing shards of dissonance with comely melodies on its somewhat neglected trio of albums EnvyGreed, and Lust in the 80s, the unholy blend made sense to those who could not only process—but enjoy—opposing elements bound by a cosmopolitan pop sensibility.

With the oft-lauded DNA, Lindsay, who may be to no wave what Bill Monroe is to bluegrass, brought a frenzied erudition to the fractious nature of East Village noise-prov back in the 70s. But thanks to a Brazilian childhood (a baby-boomer son of missionary parents), he has long had a major yen for the sweet sounds of the country’s native songforms. From the Ambitious Lovers canon to his string of discs for Rykodisc and Righteous Babe in 90s and 00s, the artsy guitarist-singer has conflated samba and skronk, funk and forro, Tropicália and trip-hop—always aiming for a sensual result built on shifting textures and abstract poesy.

Those solo albums feature a song design that conflates abstruse eroticism and nuanced irritability, and when the dust settles, it also appreciates earworms as much as Max Martin does (a nice bunch of these tracks have been collected on The Encyclopedia of Arto) . The fact Lindsay doesn’t fret over his guitar adhering to any conventional tuning, primarily using it as a cranky percussion instrument, is part of a post-modern charm that gets a kaleidoscopic kick when things fire on all cylinders—often the case. Absorbing the first ten seconds of “Predigo” from 2002’s Invoke is akin to being air-dropped into the middle of an explosive jam by Miles Davis’ Pangaea band.

He takes a tad more curvaceous route on the new Cuidado Madame (Northern Spy). As usual, its strengths lie in the friction between the rhythmic élan, chunks of string shrapnel, and supple vocals, sung in both English and Portuguese. Momentum is key. Chattering drums mark the streamlined “Ilha Dos Prazeres,” and if they weren’t so tightly locked-in with the synth punctuations, it might seem each could be part of two separate tracks. A rat-a-tat groove, flecked with the wise funk lines of bassist Melvin Gibbs, propels “Tangles” as well. “There’s a lot I don’t recognize in here,” coos Lindsay at one point, but as the music unfolds, everything becomes quite cozy.

Cuidado Madame bows as Lindsay’s first song-based solo disc in 13 years, and percussion is part of its inspiration. The Rio de Janeiro resident has long been interested in the Candomblé religion and its music rituals. Fittingly, many of these new songs are fueled by atabaque hand drums pulsing and percolating. The singer has said part of their job is to “induce trances.” They just might accomplish that goal at certain points, but they also stimulate in the traditional sense. “Grain By Grain” feels dreamy, but gets kicked along by all kinds of beats. Saucy whispers remain a Lindsay signature. Carnal matters are often close at hand, and whether backing up pillow talk or bolstering more overt sexual allusions, the drums are often there to help things veer towards the flirtatious.

On Cuidado Madame, the nexus of all the aforementioned elements arrives with “Unpair,” a nod to Emily Dickinson and a trip through the guitarist’s most maniacal soloing of the program (after all, the album is named after the Julio Bressane film about housemaids who murder their bosses). The Brazilian Tropicália movement of the ’60s has appreciably informed Lindsay’s efforts, and the momentary shit storm, complete with churchy Hammond organ swells, comes on as an experimental episode that somehow marries Caetano Veloso’s suave side, Tom Zé’s entertaining quirks, and the kind of noxious spuzz that was often pointed directly at CBGB patrons. Each aggressively vies for your attention, but any sharp multi-tasker will find a way to balance it out.

TONE Audio

We Resist – Harriet Tubman & James Brandon Lewis

America’s playing field hasn’t been level since Middle Passage and the auction block, but the 2017 version of racial equality and social justice has become more surreal than ever, no? And unsustainable. Le Poisson Rouge’s We Resist series puts jazz improvisers on point to drop their political POVs along with their musical ideas – often, they go hand in hand. This month’s show uses guitars as a bulwark against deceit. The roiling action of Harriet Tubman’s new ‘Araminta’ album sounds like it could turn things around with a single power chord. The trio, with Brandon Ross’s strings up front, tilts towards a mix of Jimi’s Gypsies and Vesuvius erupting. The James Brandon Lewis trio, one of the most combustible tenor sax outfits in action right now, hashtags #punkrock and #energy when they’re Gramming, and best of all live up to the insurgence those terms conjure. Special guest Anthony Pirog joins them to throw in some reliably keen guitar notions. Proceeds go to the artists’ fave charities.

Village Voice

Le Poisson Rouge

Vision Festival May 29 – June 3

Film, dance, poetry and video art. Panel discussions and a parade. The Vision Festival is hitting on all fronts this time around. The annual gathering, which has celebrated the aesthetic of #resistance long before the act earned itself a hashtag, is a bastion of free-wheeling improv now in its third decade. Its 2017 run cuts a wide swath through experimentation’s varied realms, highlighting artists who dodge the norm and write their own rules. From the whomp of Odean Pope’s Sax Choir to the agility of duets by alto whiz Darius Jones and pianist Aruán Ortiz, the scene’s scope will be revealed in a week-long stretch. Lots of must-sees in the mix, but the soul squall of Black Host, the slippery rambles of Joe McPhee’s Dream Book, and the deep chemistry of BassDrumBone are key. This year’s Lifetime Achievement artist is Cooper-Moore, who demonstrates his own scope with three discrete gigs in one night.

May 28 – June 3

Judson Memorial Church

Voice Parker Profile 


Steve Coleman and Five Elements Village Vanguard May 16-21

It’s a pressure cooker type of deal. Steve Coleman’s Five Elements outfit simmers and bubbles and boils until the lid blows off and the steam screams out. Thanks to the intricate interplay – which has been the DNA of the saxophonist/conceptualist’s stuff since he set up his lab in the heady Fort Greene ‘80s –  watching the process can be mind-boggling: body music posing as a chess match. Trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, guitarist Miles Okazaki, bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Sean Rickman comprise the quintet, and their agility is unparalleled. I have an explosive concert hall set from last summer’s Montreal Jazz Fest forever etched in my mind, and when they set up shop in a cozy room like the Vanguard, every micro maneuver boasts an even greater impact. Don’t take your eyes off that rhythm section.

Village Vanguard

Coleman’s Natal Eclipse band drops Morphogenesis (Pi Recordings) on June 23

Miles Okazaki

Jonathan Finlayson