By Lee Rice Epstein
A few years ago, Joana Gama and Luís Fernandes debuted their piano and electronics duo with Quest, a remarkably affecting album (reviewed by Stef as part of a round-up of piano and electronics duos). For their follow-up, Harmonies, they’ve added cellist Ricardo Jacinto, and drawn inspiration from Gama’s SATIE.150 project, a celebration of 150th anniversary of the birth of Erik Satie.
Harmonies collects six experimental interpretations of Satie: “Entrée en forme de Idylle,” “Édification en forme de Ogives,” “Piège en forme de Valse,” “Mémoires en forme de Vexations,” “Développement en forme de Harmonies,” and “Sortie en forme de Panthée.”
From the very opening of “Entrée,” the trio displays not only the broader sound I expected from a slightly larger group, but a vastly developed sense of experimentation. Much more than Quest, I felt a deep sense of purposeful unease, a darkness undermining the ambient top layers. Gama and Jacinto play at their instruments’ harsh edges, while Fernandes gradually adjusts the shading on his textures. It’s a gripping introduction. After five minutes, when Gama’s piano emerged fully and clearly, I finally relaxed into the album and let it carry me along for the remaining forty minutes.
Shhpuma has been consistently churning out these thrilling experimental albums that fall into a non-genre netherworld, neither jazz, classical, nor ambient, much of it improvised. Gama and Fernandes has already played in this space, but I feel like Jacinto helped them leap more assertively. When tracks like “Édification” and “Piége” foreground Gama’s piano, Jacinto and Fernandes find ways of synchronizing the cello and electronics to generate a propulsive counterbalance. It’s a testament, as well, to Satie’s progressive composing that his ideas stand up to such grand interpretation. Later, on “Développement,” the trio conjures a series of fragile moments, strung together by Jacinto’s urgent bowed cello and Fernandes’s airy, sustained tones.
My best experiences with this album have been at home, with the speakers turned up, and nobody else around (sorry, dear family members), or driving alone at dusk, or wearing my headphones in an empty office. Gama, Fernandes, and Jacinto have created a remarkable improvised tribute to Satie. It’s music for losing yourself in, fundamentally human and delicate.
Order from Shhpuma / Downtown Music Gallery / InstantJazz