A steadily working pianist emerging on the New York scene in the early 2000s, playing in bands led by Pete Robbins, Tyshawn Sorey, and David Binney, in 2008 Eliot Cardinaux took his life out to the rural towns of Western Massachusetts to take a hiatus from performance. There he began an earnest focus on poetry which has led him to the release of his debut album as a leader, American Thicket, on Loyal Label. His seemingly solitary life outside the city has led Cardinaux to sounds derived more often from the surrealistic language of Russian poet Osip Mandelstam than from musicians on the leading edge of today’s New York scene.
The album, however, features the woozy, microtonal musings of violist Mat Maneri (Joe Maneri, Lucian Ban, Paul Motian), the heartfelt humor, humility and simplicity of bassist Thomas Morgan (Paul Motian, Bill Frisell, Masabumi Kikuchi), and the intricate, soulfully supportive drumming of percussionist Flin van Hemmen (Tony Malaby, Eivind Opsvik), all of them New Yorkers. Cardinaux himself weaves melodies and harmonies on piano through a thicket of juxtaposed imagistic words spoken from his first two collections of poetry, The Virgin Clock and Leaning Against the Mystery.
American Thicket derives its title from the subtly interwoven brambles of the culture which teased it out under Cardinaux’s watchful gaze. Influenced by poets and writers across the last century (James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk; Yusef Komunyakaa, Thieves of Paradise; Thomas Tranströmer, The Great Enigma, Mahmoud Darwish, The Stranger’s Bed), Cardinaux has created a steadily unfolding work of poetic instants that sway with an overarching sense of revelation carried through each passing “act” or “scene” of the album of a whole, much like the drama of a stage play.
In the opening track “Thicket,” melodies work their ways through the lines of poetry like creatures clawing through the branches of an unknown forest – or a city; one is never certain which is safe, which might grab some unspoken secret from the listener, reaching from behind the trees.
The fourth track, “Angel,” is a mischievous prose poem accompanied by the off-kilter swing between Morgan and Maneri's pizzicatto, pushed by van Hemmen into the tasteful delight of the blues.
02. Questions (to the Thought)
03. Omnipotent Dreamer
05. The Stranger's Song
07. Conspiring Psychic
08. Radio Dues
Eliot Cardinaux – voice/piano
Mat Maneri – viola
Thomas Morgan – bass
Flin van Hemmen – drums/percussion
Recorded by Tom Tedesco at Tedesco Studios, Paramus, NJ, April 13th, 2014.
Mixed by Eivind Opsvik at Brooklyn Underground.
Mastered by Nate Wood.
Cover Design by Espen Friberg
Photography by Michelle Arcila