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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Hugo Antunes with piano and drums

By Stef Gijssels

Our treat of today are two piano trios, two adventurous piano trios of equal quality but of a different nature. Portuguese double bass player Hugo Antunes is the common factor between both trios. Antunes started relatively late with his bass training, and as a result his musical output is limited, even if most of his albums have been reviewed on our blog, both as a leader or as a sideman with musicians such as Nate Wooley, John Dikeman, Paul Lovens, Rafael Toral. After his initial bass education in Lisbon, he completed his studies at the music conservatory in Amsterdam, and later at the music conservatory in Brussels, where he now resides. 

Hugo Antunes, Agustí Fernández & Roger Turner ‎– Perspectrum (JACC, 2020) ****

The first piano trio is performed by Agustí Fernández on piano and Roger Turner on drums and percussion. It was recorded at the Coimbra Jazz Festival in 2016, and we have one long improvisation of 44 minutes followed by an encore of 5 minutes. Originally, John Butcher should have joined them, but illness prevented him from flying over to Portugal. Unfortunately ... 

But as a trio they were equally inspired that day. Despite the length of the first piece, the attention never wanes, stuck to the ever changing sonic discoveries that the three musicians create. Fernández is using his full instrument, more with his hands on the strings than on the keyboard, and Turner rarely hits any of his toms. This results in a multitude of micro-sounds, undescribable sounds exploding from many preparations (with clamps, clips, strings, clothespins, screwdrivers, forks?) evolving in a granular flux, a flow of hard tones, hard to the touch but smooth like pebbles, fluid like a river of grains. 

This music is tense, full of anticipation and open to any development. It lasts about half an hour before Fernández actually starts hitting his keys, full of power and  relentless intensity, Turner actually drumming and Antunes plucking his bass. Jazz erupts out of sonic scrapings and how. And then all instruments become percussion again and then the quietness of silence, and the intensity of unfinished silence ... slowly picking up again in feverish interaction. 

The 'encore', called "Outro" is more subdued and calm, with piano and bass offering us their natural sounds, sparse and carefully positioned, full of disciplined beauty. 

Rodrigo Pinheiro, Hugo Antunes & Pedro Melo Alves - Cossoul (Self, 2020) ***½

In another trio, recorded in March of this year, we find Antunes back with two fellow Portuguese musicians: Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano and Pedro Melo Alves on drums. Pinheiro we know well from his acclaimed Red Trio and his collaborations with Ernesto Rodrigues, and Melo Alves was reviewed earlier this year for his "In Igma" album on Clean Feed. 

This album is part of Hugo Antunes' 'bootleg series', performances that are made available on his bandcamp page without too much post production. This is possibly the only downside of the album: the lack of balance between the instruments and the muffled sound of the piano, as if the mike is too far away to capture the clarity of the instrument's tone. One star less in the rating. 

Even if this trio is as exploratory and adventurous as the previous review, its sound is totally different. Pinheiro is a totally different kind of pianist than Fernández, and Melo Alves a completely different kind of drummer than Turner. Pinheiro is a fan of repetitive insistence, creating tension by repeated hammering on the same keys, building up the pressure in the hope of relief while maintaining a strong inherent sense of lyricism. Melo Alves creates sonic volume, clattering and banging agitatedly, nervously, complex. 

And Antunes is as happy in this environment as he is with the Spanish pianist, and as versatile too. Antunes can shape a piece, structuring it, giving direction, often setting the tone from the start. His style can be a parlando excursion of propulsing the others forward with steady rhythm. 

The trio keep the same unity of sound throughout, offering sufficient variation and intensity to make this a captivating and at moments even fascinating listening experience. Too bad for the sound quality. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Watch a snippet of the performance here: