Arto Lindsay has a big catalogue of songs under his belt, but you wouldn't call him a singer-songwriter. The lyrics are opaque and poetic, sometimes in Portuguese, enunciated with a tender clarity. The tunes are catchy, sexy, short and sweet, but it's not pop or rock.
An evening with Lindsay's band includes moments of rhythmic and sonic density - a very contemporary barrage of percussion and electric noise - but we're in a different hemisphere to Sonic Youth or the Zawinul Syndicate. Nor is it world music, though it takes inspiration from Brazilian bossa nova. And although it isn't really jazz, this crowded club is an ideal setting, with its friendly vibe and polite notices asking the audience to remain quiet during performances. Lindsay's band, with drummer Skoota Warner, bassist Melvin Gibbs, guitarist Vinicius CantuÃ¡ria and Takuya Nakamura on keyboards, samplers and trumpet, have stunning improvisatory, listening and interpretive skills, but they play 16 numbers in the time a jazz group would have taken to get through half a dozen.
This is music of humour, surprise, virtuosity and invention. There's a thrill in recognising that it is the sound of right now, of people chatting across continents, of iMacs glimpsed behind cottage chintz, of tourists squinting at digital cameras, of technology redefining everything and nothing, and the way people try to simplify their lives in the face of accelerating change. Lindsay is unlikely to write a song with 'email' or 'cellphone' in the lyric, but the music, in its form, content and expression, says a lot about the way we live, work, love and play.
Lindsay's work is somehow post-technology, post-multitrack, employing sidemen who know how digital music-making can counterfeit and replace reality, and who play in a manner that both acknowledges and supersedes it. A natural, musicianly interplay is combined with the ability to separate threads within the whole, as if in the frozen time of a studio remix. With superb timing and feel, they create passages in which Lindsay's free-form guitar shoots off into sheets of noise over Gibbs's deep, unstoppable bass, while CantuÃ¡ria and Warner establish eye contact amid the mayhem and lock into an intricate groove with Nakamura's beatbox.
Though he uses great collaborators, you feel Lindsay's musical vision transcends individual talents (only the superb Gibbs remains from the band that played here last year). Arto may not know any guitar chords, but as bandleader, he's the boss. And covers such as Al Green's "Simply Beautiful" show what an effective singer he has become. Some of his songs - "Resemblances", "O Nome Dela", "Simply Are", "Whirlwind" and "Ondina" - already sound like classics, with a structural robustness that will stand many different treatments. There's no sense that an original is definitive - a new interpretation is always worth decoding, as it was (or is) for Ellington, Monk and Gilberto. We can regard Lindsay's last four albums, The Subtle Body, Mundo Civilizado, Noon Chill and Prize, plus the remix EPs and wonderfully generous gigs such as this, as part of a vast work in progress - a burgeoning, increasingly complex wedding cake of great 21st century music.
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