Brian Shankar Adler’s Fourth Dimension(Jalopy Theatre, New York, 5 December 2019. Review by Dan Bergsagel)
Every jazz musician brings a tradition with them into the music they compose and improvise. Having grown up in an Ashram in upstate New York, Brian Shankar Adler brings Northern Indian classical music with him; in presenting his album Fourth Dimension with his five-piece ensemble at Jalopy Theatre, we were treated to an interesting, percussive fusion of traditions.
Brian Adler’s Fourth Dimension. Publicity photo
Some of these influences are strongly signalled, with songs formed around a characteristic kernel: the blues-esque adapted raga for Mantra, the three-note Brahman chant of Rudram, or the notable hyper-audible stethoscope-like miked-up scraped and breathy sound of Shankar Adler’s tabla on Nuearth. And then there were pieces which were less directly related to Indian classical, but no less influenced. The twelve-tone Watertown bringing an exploratory spaced-out Dolphy with curious jabs, pokes and stabs, and Jonathan Goldberger’s cool guitar riding through it. The upbeat higher-energy Gowanus, with quick and scuttling vibraphone work from Matt Moran and an uplifting neat resolution at the end (hopefully bringing hope for the tragedy of the impressively polluted industrial canal just nearby).
Pulses, a piece featuring the five musicians simultaneously producing differing rhythms was a triumph of a carefully balanced and compositionally distributed quintet – in Shankar Adler’s own terminology, a ‘meditative’ and ‘radioactive’ piece at the same time. While much Indian Classical music is folded in, at its core Fourth Dimension is a jazz album. Live this is built around the formidable trio of the electric guitar, vibes and Santiago Liebson on piano. Interwoven together nicely, the finest moments are when these three jostle for prominence through an egalitarian setup, all supported by Shankar Adler and RobJost’s resonant bass. As a musician as well as a composer Shankar Adler is unrestrained by traditional kit: there is the obvious addition of tabla, but also some shells, and literal bells and whistles. As a set this all made for an immersive and stimulating evening.
A few notes on the event: Fourth Dimension was showcased on the weekly night of Brooklyn Raga Massive, a musical community bringing people with Indian classical music interests together really rather regularly, and involved in some serious record production (such as the recently-released CD Ragmala in partnership with Go: Organic Orchestra and led by Adam Rudolph – reviewed HERE and performing live on 13 December at Elebash Recital Hall at CUNY, Manhattan).
And a few notes on the venue: Last time I saw Shankar Adler play, it was in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens performing Bhangra Jazz with Frank London and Deep Singh. The venue for this event, the Jalopy theatre, is almost the opposite – instead of a leafy establishment it is a bold and defiant community venue nestled in a concrete jungle – the highly inaccessible armpit of Carroll Gardens that was severed by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and framed by the Gowanus Expressway and the shipping container docks of the South Brooklyn shore. And while the scars that Robert Moses’s infrastructure has left on the area are tangible (I gingerly skipped over two expressway off-ramps and under the overpass to get to the venue from the Brownstone Christmas cheer nearby to Jalopy) the Jalopy complex – tavern and theatre – might in fact be “the Land that Moses forgot”, an unexpected welcoming isolated haven. It is a place of music and culture, and beer and food – all wood paneling, thick curtains, kids running around joking with bar staff and locals ordering pints of half cider and half Guinness. As a venue, it is worth seeking out.