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Friday, August 9, 2019

Jazz em Agosto, Day 5

Jazz em Agosto ad at a tram stop
By Paul Acquaro

August 8, 2019, Lisbon.

Explosive. Before the french power trio ABACAXI (Portugese for Pineapple) even began, there was a threateningly loud hum. Then with a strum of the guitar, thud of the bass, and powerful pound of the drums, Julien Desprez, Jean François Riffaud, and Max Andrzejewski began their assault. Their sound is a fitful start-and-stop precision, heavy dissonant passages, that sometimes opened up briefly with a consonant chord, followed by a freak-out, and back to the machine-like advance. Their use of noise and a unpredictable strobe light, along with the brutal mechanics of their approach, was something both modern, yet simultaneously suggestive of something from another time. 

ABACAXI © Jazz em Agosto / Petra Cvelbar

Lisbon's antique Tram 28 is famous for/with the tourists. The 100-year-old electric trolley car is both a throwback to another era, yet still amazingly efficient and modern as it climbs the hills of the Alfama district, around the old castle and crumbling buildings. Riding it is an experience, people fight for the seats, it's typically standing room only, and the doors barely hold shut as it flings around the tight turns. The conductor has a set of simple controls, a throttle to control the speed and breaks, and the trolley cars advance in start-and-stop motion along the winding tracks. Some of the drivers are quite lead footed. The sounds of the squealing breaks, and the metal clunks of the wheels on the narrow gauge tracks is fascinating, especially as the cars careen around unnerving curves and steep cobblestone streets.

ABACAXI, like the tram, have their tracks laid out, and proceed with the same steampunk (well, electric in this case) beguiling mechanics. Simple, repetitive figures are used creatively, and without even a nod to audience comfort, to forge ahead. Stringing together moments of pummeling intensity over somewhat off-kilter time signatures, add up to the group's math-rock forms. The first song, "1984", was mostly chunky pounding riffs, but the following two songs introduced elements of white noise an even the amplified sound of the electric guitar manipulated through effects. In fact, it felt a bit incongruous to be seated in a theater for the show. This requires a sticky rock club floor and some weird mix of beer, smoke, and body odor smells to be truly complete. 

Just off the 28 tram line, and coming down the road from the well known Feira de Ladra, a flea market teeming with artisans, crafts, and piles of ... umm ... treasures for sale, there was an alluring sign pointing "this way" for home made empenadas and craft beer. Not one to skip on a good empenada, I peered up the driveway to find enthusiastic smiling young people waving, while Simon and Garfunkle's "Only Living Boy in New York" played. The parched courtyard, seemingly empty loft spaces, and a cloth pergola, exuded a nostalgic charm. However, after closer inspection, the empenada's were store bought and microwaved, and the drinks were a bit on the pricey side. It had seemed so promising.

Theo Caccaldi | FREAKS © Jazz em Agosto / Petra Cvelbar
The french violinist Theo Caccaldi has figured in some of the more captivating recordings covered on the blog, notably Chamber 4, a quiet but powerful quartet with Luis Vicente on trumpet, Valentin Ceccaldi on cello, and Marcelo Dos Reis on guitar. He also has worked with french bassist Joelle Leandre in a duo, which says quite a lot about his musical reputation. With his own outfit, Freaks, he turns up the volume, and recasts fusion for the 21st century. 

With two saxophones, electric bass, drums, guitar, and violin, it is almost like Jerry Goodman led an alternative version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. While Caccaldi and his violin are at the center of the group, it is the team of bassist Stéphane Decolly and drummer Etienne Ziemniak that are at its core. The two are locked in, unwavering, tight, and insistent. Around them, Ceccaldi and his crew spin their rocking vision of groove, atmospherics, Morricone-like segues, and bombastic climaxes. The music, at times, reminded me of Jean Luc-Ponty's late 70's cosmic journeys (but with far more bite!) with its violin driven swelling crescendos. 

The magic of Freaks is the blend of arpeggiated circular motions and virtuoso solos, over heavy bass and drum riffs. The saxes, like everyone in the group, are extremely proficient, and execute break-neck speed lines in unison, and can deliver fiery solos at the drop of a hat. The quick changes between heavy rock and light pastiche of music emanating from an accordion in a late night cafe keeps the music engaging. One is tempted to relate this a bit to say John Zorn's mix of hard core, metal, jazz, spaghetti western soundtracks, and lounge; however, it is also quite possible at times to think of a pop-up empenada cafe.

Regardless, the people spoke, delivering two standing ovations to a grateful group.

It's really interesting to see how many different facets the programming of Jazz em Agosto has. So far, there have been wonderful free-jazz, scored pieces, poetry, and soundscapes and the audiences have been enthusiastic throughout and so much more to look forward to!

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