A friend recently got ahold of the mindblowing Mahavishnu Live at Montreux DVD set and passed it over to me after scraping his cerebellum back off the wall. As things turned out, that release made for a great comparative as I received this group's CD, because there's present in both a depth of composition and nuance difficult to find even in these days of excellent fusion and jazzrock. Stilo appears to be a band in flux, thus its roster and size become a tad difficult to determine. From the evidence of the capacious liner, it could be anywhere between five and nine, with two ex-members also credited. The flip side of the jewel case shows five. Regardless, Lisboa Avenue is a disc of deeply gratifying true fusion.
Hailing from Poland, the band covers ground in jazz, gypsy, rock, fusion, and folk styles (the lattermost being the kind Bartok loved), colliding all together for a synthesis preserving everything of import, wasting nothing, and advancing the hybrid into the upper tiers of sophistication exhibited by groups like Magma, Maneige, 5UUs, Zao, Univers Zero, even distant tangs of Art Zoyd and some of the more radical ensembles. I mentioned the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and the relation is not inapt. On the Montreux DVD, McLaughlin's bands (taken from 1974 & 1984) had tons of room to open up and expand, taking not only the expected spectacular solos but also a great number of compositional advantages to build and develop themes, structures, and elongated passages and movements. The effect is stunning when one takes the time to truly follow what's being done. Stilo's doing the same thing in a shorter frame (Mahavishnu took as much as 20 minutes per jam) to an identical end but without relying on non-stop ultra-chops. There's no rush to get to pyrotechnics; instead, expression and subtlety are everything. In fact, their virtuosity is not the point at all but rather the brilliance of the songs themselves as whole expositions.
The cuts are very much collaboratives—save for Latimeria, a percussion solo, and Kwak Song a guitar 'n effects duet—and range from the balladic to searingly affective complexities not dependent upon volume or speedster dynamics for their effect but instead elegance and perspicacity. A beautiful melancholy invades almost every track but that emotion is of a pastoral set of remembrances, not the heartache normally associated with the well-known mood. The tango'ed title cut is perky and rustic but with the quiet exuberance of an old photograph from a family clan get-together in the back country, a sigh of desire for the old days escaping the lungs. Layers of flowing lines tumble over and across one another like a broad river reflecting endless glints of light interspersed with luminantly dark borders.
A few years back, ECM Records asked me to interview Tomasz Stanko and critique a concert he gave in SoCal (in which the incredible Marcin Wasilewski produced some of the most stunning piano solos I've ever heard), and he related to me not only his apprenticeship under Krystof Penderecki and Andres Komeda, but also the fact that there was a great deal of music in Poland going unheard in much of the rest of the world. Think about that: Stanko, Penderecki, Komeda, and then figures like Zbigniew Seifert, Czeslaw Nieman, and a host of others. Now comes Stilo, every inch as impressive and undoubtedly having a hellish time braking out of borders. Poland has a trait for intelligence in the sonic arts that must be reckoned with, brought to greater lights, not left to languish. Like the Nordic lands ECM so masterfully presents, there are entire regions in Europe beyond the rightly lauded England, France, and Italy. To scamp the rest of such a complex continent is to do the entirety a great injustice, inflicting deprivation to the rest of the world. That's a form of masochism and shouldn't be an ingredient in any intelligent global culture. Here's a way to cure it.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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