Abstract Citizen, Not Abstract Jazz

Jazz comes in an ending parade of styles, genres, moods, and modes. Friday (April 7) at Shuffle in Tampa, we were treated to hauntingly beautiful, ethereal jazz from Abstract Citizen, a remarkable quartet from Miami led by guitarist Aaron Lebos. During the two one-hour sets, the group displayed amazing individual talents and even more impressive arrangements. 

Abstract Citizen at Shuffle – 04.07.23

The focus of the group is vocalist Justine Garcia, whose wonderful voice is equally adept at lyrics and at vocalese, the wordless vocals associated with singers such as Flora Purim and Al Jarreau. She captivated each time she sang.

It would be more fair to call her the first focus of the band, because each individual brings huge strengths to the collaboration, and then there are those incredible arrangements. This was (perhaps) the group’s third time in the Tampa Bay area; I was totally impressed at their performance at Dunedin Brewery last December. What I failed to notice then was the complexity of the arrangements; there isn’t a single note out of place.

Abstract Citizen at Shuffle – 04.07.23

Marty Quinn is a fine upright double bass player (is that redundant?) whose full-throated instruments sounds so good in the relatively sparse arrangements. During the song “Faint Positive,” I was thinking, “There better be some walking bass here,” and right on cue Quinn was all over that!

There were several drummers in the crowd who couldn’t stop talking about the prowess and intention of Brahm Masla on kit, what there was of it. Bass drum, snare, hi-hat, and cymbal. That was all he needed to create amazing soundscapes, every single note with intention.

And Lebos. This man has been a guiding light in the South Florida scene for a long time. Blues, jazz, folk, rock, funk, Americana, you name it — Lebos has it all, and most of that spills out in every one of his performances with Abstract Citizen, with his experimental trio Anemoia, and with every other project he joins. He is also a master of pedals and effects, weaving those seamlessly into the performance.

Abstract Citizen at Shuffle – 04.07.23

Masla occasionally starts a song playing his snare and cymbal by hand, as he did for “Origins.” After that came the great “Ukes Not Nukes,” a song Lebos says he wrote while walking in New Orleans. The group has a wonderful rendition of “Heart-Shaped Box.” When they were finished, Lebos quipped, “That’s a tune we wrote for our upcoming album.” It is, of course, a Nirvana song. “We’re a jazz band, so I guess we should play a token jazz tune,” he said, and they did, the excellent “Faint Positive”!

The second set opened with “Kid Dreams,” yet another tight, tight arrangement, and Masla kicked off “Oil Leak” with hand drums. They again offered a magnificent cover of the Peruvian folk song “María Landó” highlighting Garcia’s Spanish vocals to perfection. They offered a new song, then a medley sort of piece honoring the work of blues giants such as Charlies Patton and Skip James, rolling through a variety of styles, Lebos nailing all of them. Quinn had a fine bass solo in “Abstract Citizen.” 

Abstract Citizen at Shuffle – 04.07.23

When it came time to finish the set, they strode boldly into Anemoia’s territory for a righteously avant “Chasing Yourself.” Lebos began the tune with some spacey guitar, and then all hell broke loose, in the best way possible, the sound construction astonishing. Quinn added bowed bass and runs on bass, and Garcia soared using a vocal effects device. Masla was the star, first manipulating a hand-held cymbal, and eventually carefully tearing paper at the microphone. Lebos was employing an EBow (Electronic Bow), and hand-held device that allows for mind-blowing effects. 

Mind blown once again. If you like jazz and adventure, check out Abstract Citizen if they get anywhere near you.

[ONE: Soul of a Nation, Origins, Ukes Not Nukes, Heart-Shaped Box, Blue Springs, Faint Positive; TWO: Kid Dreams, Oil Leak, María Landó, Ask Him?, Blues thing, Abstract Citizen, ??, Chasing Yourself]


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