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Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Rodrigo Amado Northern Liberties - We Are Electric (Not Two, 2021)

By Stuart Broomer

“Improvised music” is a convenient catch-all for a host of spontaneous styles, from ambient to noise, conversational to chance, but what Northern Liberties play is insistently free jazz, a category to which it might have belonged before its 2017 recording date. There is, however, nothing dated about this music. It might be the contemporary music that best befits the category of jazz in general, an acoustic music at once collectively improvised and insistently rhythmic. Its roots aren’t far from the surface. While Amado has already released CDs by his best-known ensembles in 2021, This Is Our Language and Motion Trio, the present CD demands attention, presenting a band with three stand-out younger Norwegians -- trumpeter Thomas Johansson, bassist Jon Rune Strøm and drummer Gard Nilssen – who match Amado’s hand-in-glove rhythmic precision and intensity. While Amado’s This Is Our Language band name invokes Ornette Coleman, two of the Norwegians -- Johansson and Strøm – are members of Friends & Neighbors, a band named for a Coleman composition.

Part of what makes Amado a special musician is the absence of rhetoric, those too-common wanderings in the tenor’s storehouse of volume and assorted noises. Certainly, his playing can be as vast and dense as almost anyone’s, but it’s always intensely focussed on the communicative and collective potential of the moment, with elements like tension, necessity and possibility informing the spontaneous act. This may be only the band’s third get-together, recorded live at Lisbon’s ZDB following a concert in Porto and a Lisbon studio session, but they’re communicating at the molecular level of pitch, rhythm and figuration. At the opening of “Spark”, Amado and Johansson are playing repeating micro-figures, rapidly varying them, shifting notes, subdividing beats and multiplying both connection and distinction, all highlighted by the quality of the recording and mix.

The interaction is fundamental here. Johansson plays trumpet as a high-wire act, a free improviser who seems to live in the wonder rather than the shadow of the recorded history, knowing there was once a Lee Morgan or Woody Shaw, playing free trumpet with an incandescent brilliance that makes him insistently the partner here, not simply a foil. While Strøm does the things that are expected of bassists, fluid but forceful maintenance of pulse and tonal centres, he also brings in arco elements that range from chamber orchestra to industrial, expanding the collective creation. Nilssen is a powerhouse, touching on everything else that is going on. For all of the energy that informs “Spark” and “Ignition”, however, the first half of “Activity” is pure cave of the mysteries, long drones and split tones draped on space.

Companion listening? Time runs deep here. I’d suggest Rollins with Don Cherry at the Village Gate 1962, Cherry’sWhere Is Brooklyn? with Pharoah Sanders, or maybe Ornette on Tenor. None is a precise match, but they all share something ineffable.