AMN Reviews: Patrick Brennan, Maria do Mar, Ernesto Rodrigues, Miguel Mira, Hernâni Faustino & Abdul Moimême – The Sudden Bird of Waiting [Creative Sources CS 674]

Back in spring 2018, New York City alto saxophonist/composer patrick brennan revisited Lisbon. While living there in the 1990s he’d become involved with the Portuguese improvised music community; his return to Lisbon put him once again in the company of the city’s improvisers and resulted in two exhilarating recordings: 2019’s Terraphonia, a duet with electric guitarist and sound artist Abdul Moimême, and now the newly released The Sudden Bird of Waiting.

Like Terraphonia, The Sudden Bird of Waiting was recorded in April, 2018 in Lisbon’s Namouche Studios. Here, brennan is heard mostly on alto saxophone but also occasionally on cornet and jaguar, the latter being an ancient Mesoamerican wind instrument producing a gusty, unpitched sound. In contrast to the earlier set, which explores timbral polarities within the restricted intimacy of the duet, The Sudden Bird of Waiting, which finds brennan alongside of a string quartet of violin (Maria do Mar), viola (Ernesto Rodrigues), cello (Miguel Mira) and double bass (Hernâni Faustino) along with Moimême on two electric guitars played simultaneously and objects, is an essay in the complex sonorities of the contemporary chamber ensemble.

Although the music on the album is fully improvised, the cohesion of the strings and guitars on the one side, and the forceful solo voice of the alto saxophone on the other, give the group’s sound a structural coherence that transcends the momentary alliances that typically form and disperse in the flow of spontaneous music. In fact it is this play of difference separating brennan’s saxophone from the strings and guitars that gives the performance the feel of a multi-movement concerto for alto saxophone and chamber orchestra. Here as on his other recordings, brennan is a compelling soloist. His saxophone emerges as a well-defined, hard-edged line standing out against and weaving through the surrounding masses of sound; these latter consist in an elaborately textured structure built up from the full range of extended and conventional performance techniques present to hand for contemporary players—something of a signature sound for Rodrigues and the string players associated with him. The track Nextness introduces a new element into the mix—the spoken word, in the form of brennan’s dramatic reading of poet Randee Silv’s verbal composition by that name. Silv’s anti-narrative of juxtaposed images and creatively dismantled semantics—a kind of extended technique for language—is perfectly at home in these surroundings.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Palimpsest Trio – Stanze [pyr168]; Orrù Mar Rocha – Live at MIA 2015 [Endtitles ET2]

Improvisation can be, among other things, a kind of spontaneous composition. Two improvisational trios whose common element is Sardinian double bassist Adriano Orrù are exquisitely aware of this and play accordingly. The Palimpsest Trio, made up of Orrù on double bass, Silvia Corda on piano, and Paulo Chagas on reeds, and the trio Orrù Mar Rocha, in which violinist Maria do Mar and clarinetist/bass clarinetist Luiz Rocha join Orrù, take approaches to improvisation which have in common a grounding in compositional principles, while differing in the details.

palimpsest-trio-web_V2-1024x924The Palimpsest Trio’s concern for compositional values—for choosing and putting elements into balanced relationships—is apparent even in the title of their new release, Stanze. A stanza (plural “stanze”) is a compositional unit in poetry as well as Italian for “room” or “stopping place;” the common meaning is of boundary or limit, and by extension a container of discrete measure which can function as a constituent part among parts comprising an appropriately proportioned whole. Terms like “proportion,” “room” and “balance” bring to mind architectural properties. And in fact the nine tracks making up Stanze are permeated by an intuitive concept of musical architecture.

For Orrù, Corda and Chagas, architectural balance takes multiple forms. First is the basic push and pull of very different timbres and articulations holding the strings, piano and reeds in an elastic tension. Sounds are placed with care beside, beneath and above one another, resulting in textures that highlight timbral contrast or concord as the moment requires. Corda’s piano is mostly a sparse, staccato source of vertically-stacked tones; Chagas’ legato lines add a fluid, vocal quality to much of the music; Orrù’s use of bowhair and wood, fingers and foreign objects to excite the strings builds a polychromatic bridge between percussion and wind. The evocative Aubade, with its modal sax melody, is a good example of how this dynamic plays out.

Just as important as timbral balance is the balance between filled and empty spaces. Orrù, Corda and Chagas use staggered and coincident rests as fundamental elements for collating phrases into larger, collective compositional units. This is evident on all tracks, but most especially on Enjambements, where open spaces play as significant an overall structural and expressive role as sounds.

a1734723754_16In contrast to the Palimpsest Trio’s use of substantial blocks of empty space as structural elements, Orrù, Mar and Rocha build their performances more out of the timbral interplay of instruments that overlap substantially in sound color. Over the course of two pieces recorded live in Portugal earlier this year, the three weave an often dense texture of contrasting and complementary colors and articulations. Their instruments’ capacity for braiding long, sustained tones is demonstrated right from the opening of the first piece. The arco double bass and violin sometimes sound like a single stringed instrument of unusually wide range, while the registral coincidence and timbral similarities of bowed bass and bass clarinet are capable of blending into one seamless sound. At the same time, the three are more than happy to explore the unique sound profiles of their individual voices, creating often intense passages of starkly opposed timbres that effectively play off of the surrounding moments of instrumental confluence: Broken figures emerge from a smooth field, which eventually reabsorbs them.

Despite outward differences, what each of these pieces by both trios share is a meticulous placement of sound and a nuanced internal balance among three independent voices. Close listening is the prerequisite for doing this successfully, and as both of these recordings amply demonstrate, that is a skill that these five fine improvisers have in abundance.

Daniel Barbiero