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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Carlos Bica & Azul – More Than This (Clean Feed, 2017) ****

By Chris Haines

It almost sounds an absurd thing to mention with regard to the type of music that we review on the blog, but this album really does benefit from lots of repeated listens! The first few times I listened to this I thought it sounded like it contained some nice relaxed and pleasant music, which was re-enforced by the holiday snap style photo that adorns the cover of the album. But on repeated listens the subtleties of the music start to reveal themselves, which makes it a far more interesting prospect, with the cordial and pleasing phrases, such as on the opening track ‘Mafalda’, growing into a beautiful melody underscored by a sad and reflective feeling. I started to notice the careful use of delay that Frank Möbus uses on his guitar, which creates a pastel shade to his more subtle and delineated lines. Moments that seemed to provide some contrast to the relaxed nature of the music took on a much more dynamic shape of their own, providing interest and excitement that hadn’t appeared to have been there before. Also, the depth of the recording of Jim Black’s drums & percussion, where some parts of the kit are closely miked whilst others are an ambient tone in the background and sound like they’ve been recorded in another large room formed another significant point of discovery. Of course, this could be said of many free jazz, improv, and experimental recordings (as well as other music too), but with More Than This it is very prominent that the music seems to not give up its secrets lightly and requires a more patient, dedicated and active listening approach to really find the gems in this music.

Just to highlight a few more tracks, ‘Whale Rider’ contains a fusion-like melody with solo phrases, which is underpinned by the very rhythmic, syncopated, and creative percussion playing of Jim Black, and contains a lovely chromatic legato guitar solo. ‘Skeleton Dance’ with its perseverative Latin-melody and percussion that conjures-up the ol’ bones shakin’ like no other since XTC’s ‘Poor Skeleton Steps Out’. There’s also the tastefully melodic bass solo, of Carlos Bica, in ‘Patchwork’, the energetic crime-watch of ‘XY Ungelöst’ and the alluring homage to the Wadden Sea ‘Wattenmeer’.

Overall this is a very graceful album that has an understated and modest feel to it. As what seems to be a set of fairly conventional sounding tunes, it is interesting to note the subtleties that can be heard within and between the notes themselves, the ambiance and the extra dimension that it brings. The musicians are clearly at ease in each other’s company and this translates into the relaxed, spacious and lyrical vibe of the music. You’d certainly want to go back to this time and time again, where more secrets could be unearthed from this seemingly unobtrusive set of pieces.