Monday, August 5, 2019

Jazz em Agosto, Day 4

By Paul Acquaro

August 4, 2019, Lisbon
Day four of Jazz em Agosto began earlier than the others nights with a free to the public concert by Lisbon based guitarist Abdul Moimême. Actually, to say Moimême plays a guitar is a stretch of the definition of 'plays' ... there is a a guitar, actually two, but they are laid out on two tables and covered with large pieces of sheet metal. Everything is amplified and the show begins as Moimême throws magnets at the metal with calamitous effect, which he follows by scraping frayed percussion brushes, and scratches with what looks like a protractor, all while manipulating the emitted frequencies through through a mixing board and effect pedals. The sounds he creates are industrial, and can be harsh, yet he captures the waves and vibrations and shapes them in captivating ways. Swoops of sounds, sensitive sine waves, and oddly human cries are conjured forth.

Abdul Moimême © Jazz em Agosto / Petra Cvelbar

Are you familiar with the scene from the Woody Allen movie "Everything you Wanted to Know About Sex" where you get a sperm's eye view (with all the anxiety of course) of the act of love making? Well, Moimême seemingly brings the audience to that point of view of note being emitted from an electric guitar. It's a microscopic moment blown up into a 45-minute expose, where all the vibrations, magnetization, and charge of a strummed chord on an electric guitar is turned inside out as the audience follows the note through the wires and out the speakers. Or, rather, as a fellow I spoke with after the show described, "it's like we are ants in a universe of sound." That makes much better sense.

Pinheiro, Toscano, Mira, Ferrandini © Jazz em Agosto / Petra Cvelbar
The next show was one that I was highly anticipating - a quartet of Lisbon based musicians, two members of the renowned RED Trio, pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini; from Rodrigo Amado's Motion Trio, cellist Miguel Mira (as well a Ferrandini); and newcomer saxophonist Ricardo Toscano, who was meeting the three other veterans of free jazz as a group for only the second time.

The young quartet began with a note from Toscano. which Pinheiro quickly complimented and slowly expanded on harmonically with his unique sharp attack and angular voicings. Ferrandini and Mira soon joined in, the cellist acting more like a bass and adding counter melody to the heating up conversation between the sax and piano, while the drums entered lightly, supporting and accenting the contours of the evolving music. After a brief moment of intensity, the group dialed it back a bit. The first and second improvisation found Toscano a bit on tentative side, but in very kind and guiding company. As the group's playing grew stronger, building in intensity, several notable duets broke out between the saxophone and piano and the saxophone and the drums. On the last piece the group really locked in and blazed. It began with an agitated figure from the shamanistic cellist, which was picked up on by the pianist, and Toscano grabbed on the tension and let loose. Ferrandini held back, letting layer upon layer of music build, until he jumped in an pushed the intensity over the top.

A memorable show, and welcome new voice in improvised music. Toscano, after the show, explained he comes from more mainstream jazz and is challenged by, and enjoying, playing freely. Hopefully this is the start of a new constellation of cooperation of which we'll see a recording of soon.

Nicole Mitchell's Mandorla Awakening II © Jazz em Agosto / Petra Cvelbar
The previous nights of protest music looked towards past sources of resistance as a starting place for today. Flautist Nicole Mitchell's Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds comes from the opposite direction ... imagining what a future could look like if things we're set right, or as the program notes describe "a truly egalitarian world of advanced technology synchronized with nature.” The story behind the music is set in a utopia on a remote island that two refugees from a world rampant with pollution and war where they must make sense of this new world, which stands in opposition of all they have known and fled (please correct me if I have that wrong!). So, unlike drawing power from injustice and corruption of the past and present, she presents a vision of the future to be realized ... resistance through inspiration and imagination.

The album was released in 2017 and I have had the pleasure of hearing this piece a few times over the past couple of years (see here and here), and tonight's performance was truly a unique and inspired one. Located in a large, beautifully designed auditorium in the main Gulbenkian museum, the eight piece band did their best to fill the generous stage, spread out in a V-formation with a pile of drums and equipment in the middle. After the band assembled, a big black curtain parted behind them revealing the Utopian Gulbenkian gardens, lush and lit up, a living leafy backdrop richly framing the band.

As mentioned, the band seemed telepathic tonight. The music is series of movements oriented around grooves with some free exploration in the middle, and finally lyrics that connect the music to the struggles of life and injustice. Musical moments, like duets between the bassist Tatsu Aoki and cellist Tomeka Reid, and violist Mazz Swift's passionate solo later in the piece were 'show stoppers'. Alex Wing's skronk-guitar work and expert Theremin manipulation presented exciting contrasts to the cohesive blend of Eastern and Western instruments, as well as the technology of Mitchell's use of the pre-recorded sounds.

Possibly though it was Avery R. Young's utterly compelling vocal performance that really dripped with passion. He began with the refrain "we keep doing the same thing over and over again", then moving into a recital of half spoken word, half song, and half performance art bringing the struggles of people to life. I am not sure I ever really had a bead on the narrative, but it did not matter as the dramatic rendering said it all. It seemed that his performance sparked an percussive conflagration and Jovia Armstrong's incendiary cadenza brought the audience to their feet.

Sunday's concert marked the end of the first weekend of the Jazz em Agosto festival .. or maybe better ... experience. Artistic director Rui Neves explained on the first night that it was a truly a unique festival where ample space and time are given to each musician/group to be showcased and savored. He carefully selects, invites, and curates the event and its shows. The theme of 'resistance' is not presented in a heavy handed way, rather it works its way in both implicitly and explicitly through confrontational music like Marc Ribot's "Songs of Resistance", Heros are Gang Leaders' delightfully charged rendering of the poetry of Amiri Baraka, the metal fueled fusion of Burning Ghosts, and the inspirational Utopianism of Nicole Mitchell. Mixed in are musicians who are making musical updates and advances in their own right. We'll be picking up again at the end of this week when Jazz em Agosto returns for it's second long weekend of music.

Mandorla Awakening Band:

Nicole Mitchell - Flute / Composition / Electronics
Avery R. Young - Vocals
Tomeka Reid - Cello / Banjo
Mazz Swift - Violin
Kojiro Umezaki - Shakuhachi
Alex Wing - Electric guitar / Oud / Theremin
Tatsu Aoki - Double Bass / Shamisen / Taiko
Jovia Armstrong - Percussion

Index of posts for Jazz em Agosto 2019:
Day 1:
Day 2:
Day 3:
Day 4:
Day 5:
Day 6:
Day 7:
Day 8:

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