Matana Roberts, Fay Victor, Liberty Ellman, Shayna Dulberger, And Qasim Naqvi Live At The Stone, Jan 15, 2016

Saxophonist Matana Roberts put together a brilliant series of bills for her residency at the Stone last week, January 12-17, drawing upon an eclectic array of musicians in promising formations, while paying tribute to the contemporaries that have impacted her, musically or personally, through the years she has spent in New York. One of the sets that really really captured my attention was a freely improvised quintet featuring voice artist Fay Victor, guitarist Liberty Ellman, bassist Shayna Dulberger, and drummer Qasim Naqvi together with Roberts. A perfect mixture of confidence and selflessness seemed to guide the encounter between performers, most of whom had limited experience playing with one another previously. Victor spent much of the set exploring the lower register which connected with the rest of the ensemble on an aesthetic level: aqueous and magnetic as her sounds mingled with bass and guitar, especially. Dulberger brought a buoyancy and a propulsion to the group, but also moved to center stage when opportunity presented itself with direct cuts that seemed to anticipate the movement of the other musicians. In a similar vein, Naqvi seemed to move down the corridors left open by Roberts, Victor, and Ellman, adding flashes of light over their rich harmonies. Ellman, meanwhile, felt like the foil to much of the rest of the ensemble–more structured than the others, yet with measured flexibility, his swiftly orchestrated guitar lines gave a firmer shape to the ensemble’s overall sound. Roberts sometimes led the way, but often played intertwined with the other musicians, exhibiting her keen sense of harmony and opportunity for interplay. One of the reasons the band sounded so good together was the space that they each provided one another. Roberts seems to have led by example in this regard, moving out front and then drawing back, inviting each musician a chance to lead. The set included a number of sparse yet sophisticated duo and trio moments that further expanded the emotional range of the music when compared to the group sound. One can only hope that this is not the last encounter for this group which seems to have tapped into a shared aesthetic with great promise.