Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pedra Contida - Xisto (JACC)

Pedra Contina ("contained stone", I believe) is a quintet made up of Marcelo dos Reis (acoustic guitar, voice, singing bowls), Angélica V. Salvi (harp), Nuno Torres (alto saxophone), Miguel Carvalhais (computer) and João Pais Filipe (drums and percussion). The disc, a 2014 release, is grouped into three sections: a four-part suite by dos Reis, three pieces under the heading "Solo and Duos" and a group improvisation.

Dos Reis' set of works begins with a long, soft tone from Torres, repeated, gradually acquiring a burr. Quiet, malleted tom-toms, low soft harp and other percussion enter, the heat level slowly turning up but still on simmer--very absorbing. Then things erupt into a Braxtonian bit of fragmented activity with vague boppish roots (this is the second section, titled, "Cuts"). I wasn't too keen on this direction, not appreciating that the initial few minuted had been relegated to "prologue" status, but it doesn't last very long, soon subsiding into a lovely harp/guitar section, thoughtful and calm. "Central Motif" revisits a kind of Braxton/Mitchell (specifically an imagine Mitchell/Barefield collaboration) area again, but more subdued, though filled with scurries and squeaks, very well sustained and not overly cloying. "Five Spaces", recorded live, creates a fine pool, each instrument separate, their effects rippling past one another, the harp pastoral, the computer gently agitating, Torres (I think) using water; good work.

Carvalhais' computer solo leading off the second area balances a generally reticent approach with quick flurries of wooly activity, dry and wet sounds coursing through a hollow space, low volume but intense, very impressive. This is followed by a truly pensive and pretty harp/percussion duet, Salvi playing "traditionally", with strong lyricism and subtly propulsive rhythms, Filipe providing extremely sympathetic accompaniment, especially on what sounds like a balafon-like instrument; again, excellent work. The duo between dos Reis and Torres picks things up seamlessly, the pair engaging in sustained and quiet conversation, dos Reis' voice adding a wonderful layer of warmth, a songlike lullaby or lament, seeming to refer to times past.

"Cracks, Shale and Bells" closes thing out, remaining in the same fertile territory, Salvi kind of the Tilbury of the quintet, maintaining tonality amidst the eddying sprawl. The track is very unprepossessing which works massively in its favor, Nothing feels hurried, nothing feels as though striving for importance. The music approaches silence but never quite gets there and manages to cover significant ground over its course while imparting a sense of overall structure, however vague over its 15 or so minutes. It's nothing that others haven't attempted many times in the post-AMM era, but this quintet pulls it off exceptionally well.

A strong recording, worth seeking out.

Fail Better! - Zero Sum (JACC)

Yes, an unfortunate band name. especially with the exclamation mark, this is a quintet consisting of doe Reis (here on electric guitar) and Filipe from Pedra Contina along with Luís Vicente (trumpet), João Miguel Pereira (double bass) and João Guimarães (alto saxophone), heard here in a 2013 live, improvised recording.

It starts in a soft zone, dos Reis' guitar providing gentle, strummed chords. When Vicente enters with some quite vocal, though still delicate trumpet, it almost sounds like an introduction to "Love for Sale". When he adopts the mute and begins quasi-vocalizing, and as Guimarães enters the mix (again, subtly and probingly) the music begins to resemble early Art Ensemble, those tonal/spacey areas they'd create as in some of "People in Sorrow". It's not imitative, merely occupying adjacent ground and doing so very well. Dos Reis, when he's up front, takes things into somewhat different climes, his guitar carrying traces of Middle Eastern references. It's interesting that when he finishes a segment some eight minutes in, the music switches mood entirely, actually again back to a quiet, early Mitchell kind of atmosphere. If there was no editing involved, it implies an intriguing conception of group improv on the part of this ensemble [checking my readout, I see there are indeed several tracks involved, something not indicated on the sleeve, so we're hearing extracts, not a continuous performance]. The whole has a far more jazzish feel than the previously reviewed release, well-handled and convincing when in that kind of AEC mode, a bit less so when matters shift to more frenetic, efi scrabbling which, to be fair they never enter all that whole-heartedly or for long durations. Still, it feels like something of a fall-back option when they do so, a safety valve in lieu of pushing things further along the lines that Pedra Contida attempted. While Pedra Contina crosses over into wider territory, this recording, a pretty decent one, will appeal more to the adventurous jazz fan. I'm sure they'd give it an especially warm welcome.


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