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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Susana Santos Silva & Torbjörn Zetterberg — Tomorrow (Porta Jazz, 2021) *****

 By Stef Gijssels

Two observations:
  1. Several years ago, I had the pleasure of witnessing how a famous classical music conductor coached a young string quartet he had never met before. He urged them to "stop playing the music and start being the music". He gave them concrete suggestions to go deeper into the music, to go deeper into themselves, to listen better to the others, to play with more abandon, to use their emotional energy, to go to the essence of the composition, to fully use the power of their instruments, and much more ... The result was remarkable (after a dozen attempts and corrections): a bland performance became a powerful rendition of the Bach piece. The musicians themselves were surprised by the result.
  2. I have these endless discussions with friends who cannot understand how the music I like (and you like) can in any way be called 'beautiful', 'artistic', 'aesthetic', or how these musicians have any sense of instrumental skill, discipline or even musical knowledge. I have long given up to convince them, using my standard phrase that music is a subjective experience and that I get a lot of satisfaction from this music that I cannot get from any other type of music. 

You probably already guess where this is going. First, both Susana Santos Silva on trumpet and Torbjörn Zetterberg on double bass deliver their music without restraints: they have become their music. It is intense, heartfelt, full of passion and delivered with the wonderful paradox of discipline and abandon. Second, this album is at the same time of a rare accessibility that it might even convince my friends of its beauty. It's hard to see what's not to like about this music, by anyone. 

Both musicians are life partners, and they have performed and recorded in many ensembles in recent years, including the Jonas Kullhammar Quartet, with Espen Aalberg's "Basement Sessions" with another review here, with Zetterberg's "Den Stora Frågan", "Om Live Och Död",  "The Great Question" and "Are You Happy", on Santos Silva's "Impermanence" and "The Ocean Inside A Stone", on "Life And Other Transient Storms", on "If Nothing Else" and "Hi! Who Are You?" with Hampus Lindwall, on Chris Pitsiokos "Child Of Illusion",  and not to forget Fire!'s "Actions". And I may have missed some. 

This is their second album as a duo, after the equally acclaimed "Almost Tomorrow" from 2013. This one is better by any measure. It's surprising that it took so long for the musical couple to record another duo album, but it is stellar and possibly worth the wait. The music is more creative, intense and with an astonishing interplay between the trumpet and the bass. The music was recorded earlier this year, on April 2nd in the St. Peter's Church in Stockholm. The environment sets the tone for a very expansive, spiritual kind of music, resonating in the space. 

The opening track sets the scene beautifully, with a drone-like arco bass and a similar low-pitch trumpet jointly creating a deeply resonating single sound, dark and ominous. The second track starts with high-pitched trumpet and plucked bass, the former reverberating in the space, the latter close and intimate. Both instruments seem to hesitate in a very human way, moaning and sad. On "Tomorrow", the trumpet soars, jubilates, with microtonal shifts accompanied by a solid bowed bass, and it evolves into a solemn subdued ending. "Observing The One" is more exploratory, with voiceless trumpet interacting with sparse notes on the bass. "Dreamers" is a kind of updated version of the "Song Of The Whales", with piercing flageolet tones and flute-like sounds from Santos Silva on her trumpet creating a light, eery, ephemeral soundscape. On "Contemplating The Other", a dark drone-like sound from the bass is juxtaposed by pure ascending lines by the trumpet, both resonating deeply in the church's space. The longest piece, "A Cry For Light" is my favourite. Zetterberg's plucked bass delivers little sonic bubbles, quite intimately, while Santos Silva's trumpet howls and wails with an uncanny human sonority. 

They manage to make each piece unique with a musical voice that is unheard of.  They have left the beaten track of any genre, while at the same time welcoming listeners to join the experience, appealing to deeply rooted universal feelings. The inventiveness of the sounds, and the fact that both musicians feel the same things with the same depth is possibly among the album's greatest strength. Everything has weight. Even in the simpler parts, every note and interplay has value and is of high quality. It is an ambitious album, and it delivers on its aspirations. 

Both musicians give themselves fully. They are the music. I truly hope this will give them the broader audience they deserve. I will start by convincing my friends. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

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