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Monday, February 1, 2021

3 by 6

By Stuart Broomer

These three recordings by Lisbon-based bands—a quartet and two trios—have several overlaps, with four of the musicians appearing twice and two others appearing once. Despite the overlaps there’s significant stylistic divergence among the three groupings, testifying to the diversity as well as the quality of Lisboan improvised music.

José Lencastre, Jorge Nuno, Felipe Zenícola & João Valinho - Anthropic Neglect (Clean Feed, 2020)

This is a highly electric quartet, most notably from Nuno’s shifting processing of his guitar, but also from Zenicola’s electric bass; even Lencastre’s alto and tenor saxophones sound processed in the miking. The music is presented in three pieces, Concepts 1-3, each a loose array of approaches launched by a single member of the quartet. The band’s distinguishing mark is its ability to sustain both high levels of energy and shifting sonic fields, in part the achievement of Valinho’s percolating counter-rhythms and Zenicola’s patterning, but also charged by Nuno’s sonic mutations and Lencastre’s marked intensity. On Concept 1, Nuno manages to sound like a screaming machine, a literal compound of nuts, bolts, circuits and viscera; on Concept 2, he’s a shrill whisper at high volume. Lencastre also possesses tremendous range, from R&B-laced tenor to soaring alto and the abstract, mutating timbre that sets the tone for Concept 3, followed by strange shifting pitches draped on Nuno’s wandering lines of feedback. By that work’s conclusion the quartet is a looming four-voiced whole, from Nuno’s rumbling sustained modes and Zenicola’s droning bass hanging cathedral-like over the cry of Lencastre’s alto and the formal thrash of Valinho’s drums. The conviction and attention to detail transcend expectations, surmounting the sub-genre’s usual melodrama with architecture and invention.

José Lencastre, Hernâni Faustino & Vasco Furtado - Vento (Phonogram Unit, 2020)

Phonogram Unit is a new label, a musicians’ collective enterprise, and its distinguished even before you hear its works by the quality of the design and artwork of Sofia Faustino. José Lencastre sticks to alto here, and it definitely sounds like his principal horn. The music is initially almost, well, composed, the opening “Here We Go” a formal pattern from drummer Vasco Furtado and bassist Hernâni Faustino that’s ultimately a playfully boppish theme articulated by Lencastre that leads to a strongly articulated Faustino line, some atmospheric arco, an out-of-time passage of lyric alto brought back into time by a sustained drum roll that turns oddly polyrhythmic, the sustain taken up by Faustino’s tremolo bowing. These evolutions, including echoes of the original melody, are accomplished without fuss or fanfare by a band that appears to respond to one another’s hints without hesitation or adjustment. The next, “Abstração,” is just that, a thick swath of alto polyphonic, that moves through dirge-like phases, expressionist alto against mobile bass and shifting percussion, until it sings free with a lyric lightness that suggests the particular influence of Lee Konitz on Julius Hemphill. Faustino achieves quiet miracles of bass articulation, with bowed tones of such evenness they sound like perfectly resonant pizzicato, pizzicato tones so sustained they sound like they’re bowed. The unrestrained “Test Drive” gives a clearer view of the group’s expressionist potential, Lencastre stretching his lines with rare coherence against a continuous rain of cymbals. The slower “Ruínas” reveals further depths. Lencastre covers a lot of ground in Anthropic Neglect, but the alto playing that graces Vento carries his voice and his lines further. 


No Nation Trio - Habitation (Phonogram Unit, 2020)

If Lencastre is a significant surprise in the step from Anthropic Neglect to Vento, a bigger surprise yet awaits. Habitation by the No Nation Trio presents Jorge Nuno, a guitarist one might have thought could live by his pedal board alone, playing acoustic guitar in a trio with Hernâni Faustino and Anthropic drummer João Valinho. The trio is quietist, almost pietistic, as if the wood of guitar, bass and drum rims might bear direct connection with the woodland on the cover; subdued rhythms are everywhere in this music, lapping at one another and overlapping, Nuno can stick to a simple rhythmic insistence or wander delicately afield, almost quixotically; a bowed bass sounds like a rooting woodland animal, while the percussion might be played at times by precipitation. “Untitled 3” is sustained by bowed bass and bowed cymbals, its gradually increasing volume a suggestion that the listener might be getting closer to the heart of the music. There’s everywhere a naturalness here, a kind of beatific absence of intent, a new music that gives the impression of having been here all along, simply calling on a more detailed listening to tunings, light abrasions and abstracted fingerboard dreamings, sustained chordings that are mild insistence rather than rhythm guitar. It's the kind of effortless gift of music that makes you want to say “thank you” to a CD.