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Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Two different (very different) bands that include Susana Santos Silva

By Stuart Broomer

Since emerging a decade ago with the playfully postmodern group Lama on a series of Clean Feed recordings, trumpeter Susana Santos Silva has developed a distinctive musical voice that she has adapted to diverse projects, from the beautiful solo music of All the Rivers, a subtle duet with the reverberant space of Lisbon’s Panteão Nacional, to bands as aggressive as Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! The two quartets considered here, with only Santos Silva’s presence in common, take radically different routes and responses to a certain sense of immediate crisis, a dislocation in time, one perhaps of identity, the other environmental.

Ikizukuri + Susana Santos Silva - Suicide Underground Orchid (Multikulti Project, 2021) ****½

Ikizukuri, based in Porto, Portugal, begins as a power trio of Gonçalo Almeida, on electric bass; Gustavo Costa, playing drums and postproduction electronics; and Julius Gabriel, on soprano saxophone. The band works from a kind of Japanese chaos aesthetic. How visceral is it? “Ikizukuri” is a form of sashimi in which the seafood is still alive when it is prepared. I still recall my surprise when the dinner of a neighboring customer in a Japanese restaurant tried to get off the plate. I doubt the band is endorsing Ikizukuri, rather identifying with the meal.

It’s a brilliant up-date on an established format, the long running dialogical free jazz quartet from those of Coleman and Ayler through the harsher force of Peter Brötzmann and the adoption of heavy amplification. Here Almeida contributes doom metal bass, Costa a mix of thrash and pinpoint-rattle drumming, and the horns an interchange of wail and honk. The expansion to a quartet with Santos Silva’s at-once precise and incandescent trumpet is almost normative, a free jazz front-line less odd than the prior pitch gap between Almeida’s bass and Gabriel’s piping soprano.

The most striking aesthetic expansion here is Costa’s postproduction electronica, strange echoing sounds that violate the “presence of the present”, a beautiful fiction present (it’s inescapable) in every recording of improvised music however “pure” the process. This music is more crazed, more intense than what was first created “live”. Costa’s postproduction emphases range from ambient, abstracted sound to harsh noise: when the band stretches out to nine minutes on “Wealth, to the Poison in the Wash”, it ranges from speed metal aggression to dream-like lyricism. Multiple dislocations echo that grim band name, extending to the wonderfully crazed titles attached to these pieces: the track titles are convulsions, semantic impossibilities that create meaning out of incongruity, conceived with a kind of poetic rage: what linear discourse can possibly add to a piece of music that its makers have already called “In the We Some, No S Can Though” or “The and Flesh His Resources”. “I a an Failures” is as hard to nail down as its title, its echoing mystery surrendering to an accelerating bass assault.

Hearth - Melt (Clean Feed, 2021) ****½

The quartet Hearth, first assembled at Amsterdam’s October Meeting in 2016, possesses the unusual instrumentation of three winds and piano, with Santos Silva joined by alto saxophonist Mette Rasmussen, tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Ada Rave and pianist Kaja Draksler, all of whom contribute vocal elements and small instruments. Melt, from the 2019 Portalegre Jazz Festival, has pointedly environmental themes, from the album name to such track titles as “Fading Icebergs” and “Tidal Phase.

There’s the sense here of the invention of a new kind of music, closely aligned with ideas of distinct sonic environments. Lines are sometimes absent; in their place are series of overlapping long tones, suggestive of environmental processes from slow decay to seeming stillness to sudden growth, figured not by changing tones but by a certain assertiveness of attack, a sudden crescendo, a more insistent sense of layering. At times the group suggests A Contest of Pleasures, the wind trio of John Butcher, Xavier Charles and Axel Dörner that some 20 years ago began to produce music devoted in part to long tones. Here, a similar approach is especially evident on “Oscillations”, though on other pieces these patterns are joined with an explicit set of ecological metaphors. The gradually overlapping tones come to suggest the random tolling of bell-buoys ringing with the lapping of waves. The extended “Diving Bells” is almost an exercise in gradual diminution, moving from the raw-edged, expressionist noise of Rasmussen and Rave's prepared saxophones, expanding with pointillist piano and shifting combinations to include glass chimes, penny whistles and percussive clicks as well as voices variously driven through wind instruments, sometimes suggesting small creatures, stretching towards dense activity conducted at very low volumes, sonic life growing richer as it approaches silence. The cumulative impact grows with each hearing.


rod j said...

Thanks - that Suicide Underground Orchid sounds great!

Nikolai Shienok said...

To my ears "Melt" is certainly the album of the year. I look forward for their next recordings.

Ken Blanchard said...

Very compelling review. Both samples were superb. I would have started with the live fish story.

Paul said...

Wow, checking out "Ikizukuri + Susana Santos Silva" for the first time and it is intense!