AMN Reviews: Pedro Melo Alves’ Omniae Large Ensemble – Lumina (2021; Clean Feed)

Percussionist and composer Pedro Melo Alves has been busy of late, this being his fourth release of the year. Recorded live at Centro Cultural Vila Flor in Guimarães in November of 2020 last year, Lumina features Alves’ Omniae Ensemble septet expanded to a 22-piece outfit. It is a full-blown jazz orchestra, with woodwind, brass, string, vocal, and percussion sections as well as a conductor. Yet, Alves does not appear to be constrained by categories, as the album explores a space that includes jazz, classical, free improvisation, electronics, and experimental music.

At first blush, the opening resembles the “big band” modern creative music recordings of Dan Weiss (Fourteen and Sixteen), with tight orchestration and wordless female vocals. But as the first piece, Ubi, evolves, it opens up quite a bit into passages wherein a subset of the instruments explore sparser and less structured directions. The open-endedness of these improvisations contrast with other passages in which the larger ensemble provides a rhythmic underpinning.

Clocking in at 75 minutes split over three long tracks, Lumina provides plenty of space for angular soloing by various instruments. In between, the entire ensemble joins in for a frenetic and contrapuntal set of themes.

Phelia continues the journey, beginning with convoluted piano over a subtle background drone into which abstract vocalizations are slowly merged. Staccato percussion and continued chanting lead a busy and varying group effort. Onirea finishes up with electronics and percussion overlaid with low-end brass motifs. While initially the most overtly outside of the three pieces, it hoves to the general approach of the others, showcasing bass and other strings as well as a mass of sound along the way.

Bottom line, there are so many melodies, fractions of melodies, and themes that move in and out of Lumina, this recording is impossible to nail down. Not unlike an amoeba, it keeps changing its shape and remains amorphous within loose constraints. Very well done, with grist for many repeated listenings.

Lumina will be released on October 22 by Clean Feed Records.