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Friday, July 9, 2021

Pedro Carneiro & Pedro Melo Alves - Bad Company (Clean Feed, 2021) ****½

By Stef Gijssels

Albums with marimba are relatively rare, despite the beautiful sound of the instrument, and even rarer in a duo format with drums. But that's what you get here and I can recommend the album whole-heartedly to anyone with interest in modern music and improvisation. 

Pedro Carneiro plays bass marimba, which is even rarer, and with quarter-tone extension. His background is primarily in modern classical music, either as a composer or as a fervent interpreter of Iannis Xenakis, and regular readers may know him from Nuova Camerata's "Chant". Here he performs with Pedro Melo Alves, whose "In Igma" received a five-star rating from us last year, and on Luis Vicente's "Chanting In The Name Of". 

The combination of both instruments is exceptional, and its success here may lead to other similar attempts.

"Revelry" starts the album hesitatingly, with precious sounds positioned cautiously in empty space, almost organically growing into a myriad percussive bites. This more abstract canvas is replaced by the driving pulse and rhythmic delight of "A Touch Of Self-Satisfaction", on which both instruments challenge each other in an ongoing dialogue. 

"From A Starless Sky", mysterious with changing roles, deep rumbling of the drums and high pitched marimba tones, both warm and soft, turning into an insistent mesmerising ending
"Totally Unexpected Joy", is a slow piece, with sparse and intimate marimba notes interacting at a steady rhythm with the bowed sounds of cymbals and other objects resonating in empty space, seamlessly moving to the next piece. 

The ten fully improvised tracks offer a broad pallette of intense interaction, with both musicians listening and reacting with immediacy and respect. The album is inspired by a story by Japanese author Yasuoka Shotaro's "Warui Nakama" ("Bad Company", 1953), in which three delinquent boys grow up during the war with China. Their anger and violence depicts the societal tensions of the time. 

Like a lot of good music, there are paradoxes, I would call their musical approach one of "rich minimalism", in which sparse sounds being generated by a lot percussive interaction, kaleidoscopic; there are also the contrasts between the soft-toned marimba and the sharp sounds of the drums, between the high energy bursts of sound and the calm structures that do not seem to require action, between the fresh surface of the music and its deep impact. 

The album is unusual, partly because of the unique line-up but definitely also because of the quality of the music. A true ear-opener.