When one gets busy in New York, it is easy to go a year or more without seeing certain performers, even those who play regularly in the city. That was the case for me with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Anais Maviel (voice, n’goni) prior to her performance at Roulette on May 29. On that night, she led two bands, though I was only able to stay for Cross Times, a trio with Luke Stewart (bass) and Sam Yulsman (piano, electronics), fully. It is clear that Maviel has been hard at work, further developing her own aesthetic scope. The performance included one long piece that took on many shapes like a varied landscape of mountains and valleys, dense forests and gushing streams. The music was rich with dark colors–deep indigo, violet, and black–sometimes surging up into red–spread across a sensual, spiritually uplifting canvas.
The piece began with all three instruments emitting low rumbles that opened like a yawning portal into a realm beyond the physical. As the momentum rose, sonic accents from electronics and voice gave the sounds increasing shape as Maviel eventually emerged with an ambient wail that soared. While Stewart maintained all of the dark corners of the sound, Yulsman on electronics and Maviel now on n’goni built narrative tension over the top with the latter eventually adding vocal distortions to add to the surge. There was an aqueous undercurrent in which the sharper sounds steeped until they emerged, fully formed, for brief moments, before re-submerging in the collective sound. This pattern was present throughout. The piece built to a vocal/n’goni solo by Maviel that was particularly bold with vibrant lyrical narratives, some of which were repeated, such as the line, “I let you draw the map of what you seek … in the garden.” Even before these explicit references, the music brought out images of a whole living ecosystem, teeming with life.
This performance exhibited an eclectic array of Maviel’s own abilities and aesthetic sensibilities. Her use of vocal distortions were curated well here, used either to further heighten an existing surge or to mark a clean transition into a new part of a piece. Maviel’s vocal dexterity–already a hallmark of her style–seems to have been even further refined over the past year. The later parts of the piece took on an increasingly minimalist formation, which allowed for even the smallest of sounds to make its full impact. Anais Maviel followed this trio with a duo performance with Chiquita Magic.
This performance was a significant step forward for Maviel, who stands out as a unique aesthetic visionary within her generation of improvising and experimental musicians in Brooklyn.