Artanker Convoy Cozy Endings

[The Social Registry; 2007]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: crossover jazz, No Wave, blaxploitation scores, psychedelic rock
Others: David Axelrod, Medeski, Martin & Wood, David Holmes, Isaac Hayes

Artanker Convoy’s Cozy Endings plays out like an inversion of the blaxploitation cinema score, from the double entendre of the album title paired with the CD’s cover art to the tightly disciplined rhythmic structure of the band’s distinctive no-wave-meets-'70s white boy funk stylings. Much in the same manner that Clock DVA’s White Souls in Black Suits was a re-imagining of British soul as filtered through the Northern English sensibility, Cozy Endings is a distillation of crossover jazz/funk kitsch seen through the post-rock prism. To put a finer point on it, the album’s primary focus is on the eerier, minor-key side of the genre brought into prominence by the likes of Lalo Schifrin and David Axelrod and currently practiced by artists such as Barry Adamson and David Holmes. Cozy Endings, however, has as much in common with experimental psychedelic rock as it does with the crossover jazz sub-genre, but it’s an undeniably smooth, compelling record that demonstrates the band’s considerable chops and propensity for memorable arrangements to be in impeccably fine form.

While the album is primarily a vehicle for longstanding members Artanker (on drums) and bassist Joe Fiorentino, it plays like the psych-inflected work of a Bitches Brew-influenced contemporary jazz quintet, or perhaps a Krautier and more angular experimental funk outfit à la Medeski, Martin & Wood. The first five tracks on Cozy Endings were composed for a multimedia/performance art piece by MUX entitled Egoist, while the sixth, the jazz-punk “The Happy Minotaur,” was commissioned for an animated film by Morgan Jacobson entitled Fish Kiss. The highly visual nature of these predominantly lengthy tracks (excepting the two-minute-plus final track) indeed makes for an evocative listen that renders the music suitable for the soundtrack medium. But what makes the music of Artanker Convoy of such great consequence is the sheer depth of the band’s recordings, which are brimming with immediacy and an inordinately tight sense of control. Cozy Endings is an indisputably groove-heavy amalgam that, though it retains the air of the familiar, manages to avoid sounding derivative through the unmitigated strength of its compositions. The band make prolific use of the subtle nuances of the recording process — room noise, the squealing of fingers across a bass guitar string — to color these tracks with organic flourishes that pulsate with warmth.

Cozy Endings’ odd-man-out is its lead-off track, “Open Up,” a no-wavey piece embellished with psychedelic filigree that stands out as the record’s most experimental and, incidentally, intriguing number. Random noise, a lumbering bassline, and squealing James Chance-style horns coalesce around a gravitational center that allows the track to jell, thus keeping the abstraction down to a manageable level. Much of Cozy Endings is infused with noirish overtones that resonate with a late-night, urban grittiness. The eerie, nocturnal Fender Rhodes and reverb- and wah-wah-laden guitar effects of “Ejector,” for instance, accentuate the track with a brooding sense of municipal decay. The brilliant “Black Dauphin” is perhaps the most fully realized piece on the album and is an epic, tense composition that shows the band at the pinnacle of their compositional prowess. The track’s saxophone accompaniment, courtesy of Joan Oas, is both fluid and breathtaking. The CD is paired with a curious if superfluous companion DVD featuring live performances, choreographed dance, and heavily stylized op-art videos of the band’s music.

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