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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rodrigo Amado - Surface (European Echoes, 2007) ****

As listeners of any music, what we're looking for is a great listening experience. And for me, a great part of the fun of listening is hearing things you haven't heard before, that are furthermore emotionally and aesthetically appealing and intellectually interesting. What Portuguese alto and baritone saxophonist Rodrigo Amado does on "Surface" is just that. Accompanied by a trio of highly experienced jazz strings, Carlos Zíngaro on violin and viola, Tomas Ulrich on cello and Ken Filiano on double bass, he brings a chamber-jazz kind of music. Interestingly enough the string trio gets the whole focus of the composition, creating an improvized backbone of shifting layers of music, shifting continuously between playing arco and pizzicato, with Amado improvizing on top of it. And it's jazz, no doubt about it, even if much of the approach is borrowed from modern improvized music. The music has all the ingredients of bop and swing and even blues, rhytmycally and in the melodic structure, even if it's not apparent on the surface of things. The strings allow for a deeply emotional approach, offering both very romantic moments of very sad bowing on the cello, or screeching gut-wrenching sounds from all three string instruments. There is sadness and sorrow here, and also joy, especially in the shorter pieces, but also some eery yet interesting sound explorations, as in "Calculators". This music is gentle and explorative, with interesting angles and perfect execution. Although Amado's contribution to the overall sound is absolutely essential, the fact that he gives ample room for the strings to do their thing is one of the major successes of this album. Definitely a musician to follow closely.