Monday, August 3, 2020

Jazz 2020, Lisbon, Portugal. Part II

© Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian – Vera Marmelo

By Paul Acquaro

I'm very thankful for the excellent condition of my rented mountain bike's brakes at the moment. Since picking it up from a shop near the river, I had been riding up, up the Avenue de Liberdade, past the tourist shops with cork hats and colorful tiles, past the many restaurants and upscale shops, past the tree lined pedestrian strips, up into Parque Eduardo VII, and beyond. Now, I am headed quickly down a winding street, the impressive aqueduct towering on my left, as well as large panel truck. I finally get to an underpass that takes me to the other side of the highway where I pick up what seems to be a newly created bike lane, which winds it way back up to my destination, the Parque Florestal de Monsanto. 

At the top of the hill is a transmission tower and what seems to be an old listening station, a modern ruin serving as an observation deck, but currently closed due to COVID. Regardless, the sculpted hiking and biking trails offer plenty of other views, old ruins, and opportunity to get lost among the trees. Then, it is time to go down again, and I praise my brakes once more as I descend towards the Tower of Belem, by the riverside. Back at the aptly named Lisbon Bike Rentals, the fellow running the store tells me that he likes to get his morning biking-laps done up on the mountain, and I cannot think of a better way to begin a day myself.

So, yes I'm a bit tired by the time the concert starts in the evening, but it's a good tired, and I'm ready for the transcendent experience that trumpeter Susana Santos Silva's Impermanence band delivers.

Night 2, Aug 1: Susana Santos Silva's Impermanence
Susana Santos Silva's Impermanence 
© Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian – Vera Marmelo

Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva has been beguiling avant-garde and improvised music fans for a number of years already. In fact, if you were looking for an international star in these concerts, it is likely her. From early works like 2011's Oneiros to haunting solo works like 2018's All the Rivers – Live at Panteão Nacionalboth on Clean Feed, to 2020's The Ocean Inside a Stone on Porta-Jazz, with several in between (read an interview from 2015 with Silva here.)

My colleague Lee Rice Epstein gave Impermanence's new recording Ocean Inside a Stone a rave review, writing:
"In a manner of speaking, Impermanence has evolved its sound both vertically and horizontally. In a more straightforward reference to itself, the quintet has embraced its name and moved on. Where they’ve gone to, however, is quite a bit trickier to put into words. Santos Silva’s syntax is as varied and robust as any trumpeter on the scene."

For a little background, the band Impermanence, I believe, first appeared on the album Impermanence from 2015. The line-up is Silva on Trumpet, João Pedro Brandão on saxophone and flute, Hugo Raro on piano and synthesizer, Torbjörn Zetterberg on electric bass and Marcos Cavaleiro on drums, so some intersection with the group Coreto from the previous evening, and the chemistry of the tight-woven Porta jazz scene is apparent from the moment they hit their first note.

They begin with a punchy rock inflected drum beat over an elastic bass line. The trumpet and sax join with an octave jumping, fractious melody creating friction with the atmospheric bass line. Maybe that is giving too much credit to the bass alone, as the synthesizer adds a great deal of depth and ambiance. The overall effect however casts a slightly melancholic parlor over powerful psychedelic rock. The solos in general are not vehicles to impress, but rather channels that enhance the moods of the pieces. Mood is what this music seems to be about, the music invites - or rather demands - the listener to hear visually. Images that come to my mind are natural, organic, flowing. As the pieces morph from hard charging rockers to ambient rolling movements the crashing waves become eddying streams. Rivers run through this visceral music, you feel the pulse even when you cannot discern a structure.

Free improvised passages merge into bifurcated solos. Silva and Brandão play off, around, and with each others lines. Brandão's switching between sax, alto clarinet, and flute adds new tonalities, as does the shifting sounds of the synthesizer and piano. A captivating passage begins with a Hammond organ patch on the synth that quickly adopts a circus-like cadence, which is then matched with an appropriately off-kilter melody. The mental images switch from the flowing waters to gracefully arching trapeze artists and then to clowns riding elephants. However, even this seemingly joyful moment is underscored with a bit of a brooding, unidentified menace. An explosive bass solo, full of distortion and feedback, ends this spectacular old-time reverie, and ushers the group into a unique vision of sludgy stoner rock. A later highlight is a duo exchange from Silva and Brandão, unfettered and free, it is an exciting duet before a drum solo that becomes a world-music piece as the horn players exchange their typical instruments for penny flutes.

The constant, uninterrupted shifts of tones, timbres, and tempos keeps the music flowing, and it's focused and precise nature makes it an utterly compelling listening experience. The set was just over an hour, but the distance traveled was immense.

Night 3, Aug 2: Angélica Salvi and The Selva

It's windy this evening, colder as well. The day was brilliant however, as I walked through some new neighborhoods from the Gulbenkian grounds where I had been sitting to finish up the previous nights write up (and ate a pastel de nata from the cafeteria) to the ruins of the Moorish Castelo de São Jorge,  perched high above the river front. With few tourists, it was a pleasure to take in the views and walk over antiquity.

Angélica Salvi 
© Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian – Vera Marmelo

Spanish born, but a long time Porto resident, harpist Angélica Salvi is a wispy presence on the stage. She quickly slides behind the imposing and beautiful concert harp, all but disappearing. From my vantage point, she is essentially just two arms with hands gently curled around the vertical strings. To her left is a set up of electronics that she uses to enhance and loop her primarily acoustic sound. She begins with a delicate thrum of the strings, then proceeding to pluck out an emergent tune through richly amplified tones. The songs have a folk-like feel to them, though presented in a proper classical manner. The mixture works remarkably well.

The second song is enhanced by the electronics, the melodic arpeggios are captured, reversed, and returned, providing a shadow of accompaniment. Salvi uses this combination of acoustic and electronics to weave a hypnotic sonic web, building up to gentle cascading crescendos, and dissolving into barely perceptible whispers. The last song breaks this silky sound tapestry with its purposefully struck deep melodic tones. The phrases themselves move mysteriously, drawing on Middle Eastern modalities. The song is also the fiercest, as Salvi begins to duet with her effects, her sound splitting into a swarm of insects. 

It's a brief but mesmerizing show. My only other introduction to Salvi was through he absolutely stunning 2015 duo album Concentric Rinds with guitarist Marcelo Dos Reis from Cipsela, and I will be searching out more.

The Selva © Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian – Vera Marmelo

After a brief pause, the three members of The Selva silently approach the stage: Ricardo Jacinto on cello, Gonçalo Almeida on double bass, and Nuno Morão on drums, a small group that generates an otherworldly sound.

They begin with the rumble of the bass and scraping overtones from the cello. Almeida proceeds to use mallets on his basses body, turning it into another drum. Supported by the 'real' drums, the band starts to hum, creating a dark, trepid thrum of sound. Jacinto tosses in a haunting theme to top it off. Then, the drums begin playing with a free-jazz style pulse, over the basses texture. The stage, suffused in red light, charges the ampitheater with a pregnant sinister atmosphere.

The Selva have two recordings out on Clean Feed, the self-titled 2017 debut and last years Canícula Rosa. They are described in various ways: minimalist, abstract, textural, and post-rock. Suffice to say, this is all true, and more. Emerging from the dark place that the trio just musically achieved, there is a repeated, simple figure from the cello and a groove amplified by the drums, making it safe to add 'prog-rock' to the list of descriptors. This movement, or section, builds in intensity and heft. Interestingly, it is only the drums that is offering any sense of melodic movement at the moment, the others are building layers of sound. This eventually dissolves, and the the bass takes over with a clean rhythmic figure, as the cello begins a new Gamelan-like phrase. The two begin stacking sounds anew, with moments of interlocking rhythms and textures. The final movement features Almeida and Jacinto bowing, the sound is awash in overtones while Morão finds an asymmetrical groove to ratchet up the energy. Settling into long, static lines, the drama increases until the gut wrenching tension breaks. 

The next piece (after this 25 minute epic, the pieces get shorter in duration, but even more intense) begins with some playful mayhem, which leads to some intense sawing at the strings. Then, a classical-tinged melody appears. The following piece begins with some feedback from the cello - it's not entirely possible to tell if it's intentional or not, but the bassist picks up on it and begins an insistent line. The drums then clicks into a minimalist groove and the bass line transfers to the cello, and the trio begins spinning a captivating sonic net.

As the following piece begins, a group of people leave the amphitheater. Astounding. The music isn't of course traditional jazz, nor is it gentle, rather it is texture, tension, and time, spinning around in the air before you. This is musical energy, and the group is now playing with space, the bass going deep, offering deep oscillating tones (there are electronics being used as well) as the cello delivers a mournful droning melody. Single pizzicato notes carry the listeners across the chasm. I found it hard to leave, even after the music was over.

Jazz 2020 continues next weekend. More info here.

1 comment:

Nick Ostrum said...

This was a real pleasure to read, Paul. The description of the music was engaging, as always. But, I found myself more drawn to the narrative around the performances - the biking, the environs, the empty city - than I usually am. It has been a while since I have seen anything other than an impromptu porch performance or a streamed solo or duo. It was heartening to read about something resembling a return to normalcy. Cheers to the organizers for putting this on apparently so responsibly and here's to this festival not being a one-off blip.

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