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Monday, January 24, 2011

Afterfall (Clean Feed, 2010)

By Paul Acquaro

We are waking up slowly, somewhere unexpected. Small sounds are creeping into our consciousness, clicks, moans -- slightly spooky -- suggesting a less than desirable near future. We begin to focus and clicks become tones, sounds begin to connect, we realize that we are being spoken to, but in a strange dialect. Soon we realize that this language, that while somewhat familiar, is actually comprised of those clicks and sudden accents -- a wail or moan is not unintended. It's all a part of the drama unfolding around us. The pacing quickens and the harmonies thicken.

Afterfall is an international collaboration on Clean Feed records with Luís Lopes on electric guitar, Sei Miguel on pocket trumpet, Joe Giardullo on soprano and tenor saxophones, Benjamin Duboc on double bass and Harvey Sorgen on drums. Lopes, from Portugal, is the group leader, but you may not know it, as he takes a back seat to his other Portuguese, American and French colleagues. In fact, it's Giardullo whose voice seems to be most prominent.

At first, there is a feeling restraint, like the musicians have colluded in not revealing exactly what they mean. However, things begin to loosen up slowly towards the middle of the album. 'Cancoa Branco' builds slowly over eight and a half minutes and only in the last minute of the tune does Lopes' distorted guitar rise out of the mix along with Giardullo's sax. But then the communication barrier has been broken open and the music pours forth on 'American Open Road with a Frog.' Then it starts making sense, this album is a suite, each piece building up into longer sonic segments and becoming increasingly melodic. Giardullo takes a full throttled free blowing solo, finally saying everything that was being held back for so long. 'Open Road' has broken free and how good it feels -- it's almost swinging!

The last two songs find us retreating back into a murkier atmosphere. 'Triptych' begins with upright bass bowing a dark chord and plucking choice notes white Lopes' guitar sprinkles tiny melodies atop. It laboriously builds, adding trumpet, then percussion and finally sax, leading to a fierce collective improv. The last tune, 'Return of the Shut Up Goddess' brings us full circle (the first tune is called 'The Shut Up Goddess'), with small snippets of melody and scratching rhythms. However, this time we are fully awake and ready.

This arching song cycle is illuminating. Lopes' use of the guitar as a colorist and percussionist (at times) is as non-conventional as you can get. All the sounds and dynamics of the sax and trumpet are explored. The album has some darker undertones, but they function by making us work harder to understand, and I'm fairly certain that we are, by this point, starting to get it.

Download and listen at eMusic.

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