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Thursday, July 14, 2022

Elisa Monteiro, Muda (PMC-Produção de Música Contemporânea, 2022)

By Jim Marks

Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Elisa Monteiro focuses on the viola for this release from the PMC label. This set of 14 improvisations also interweaves psaltery, keyboards, found sounds, and some flugelhorn by Celio Barros, PMC’s founder. The rich sound of Muda (“change”) is at times reminiscent of the playing of Laura Cannell, Alison Cotton, or Mat Maneri. Monteiro coaxes a wide range of sounds from her instrument, with sweeping, elongated bowing, harmonics, percussive effects, and heavy use of reverb or natural echo. The mood shifts from reflective to brooding and, while it can be described as atmospheric, the subtle shifts in tone and texture reward close listening. Monteiro’s roots seem to be in classical music, but her playing here demonstrates an affinity to jazz in the harmonies and, of course, the commitment to improvisation. 


The tracks vary in intensity and tempo but, as might be expected, tend to start slowly and build. Some, such as “Baile” and “Fênix,” begin with strong bowing, and others, such as “Maya” and “Metamorfose, with pizzicato. The brief “Presenteopens the set with a lovely wash of sound reminiscent of an orchestra tuning up. Next, the scratch of a match lighting beginsArtemagna,” which is carried along by long tones from the viola and drones from other instruments. “Baileand “Ao Que Nao Foijuxtapose dizzying shrieks and thrums and, like several of the tracks, shift gears midway through, in the former case to a keening near-melody and in the latter to a series of distinct double-stops and arpeggios. On the title track and some of the others, the playing has folk elements akin to fiddling or the dry pluck of an oud, while tracks such asLuto” andMudo Mundo” have more of an avant-garde feel. Metamorfose” picks up the theme of change (also suggested in the surreal cover art), with rhythmic pizzicato and the clacking of a typewriter supporting a deep viola line. The longest of the tracks, “Em Branco,” is also the most ambitious, with complex chords into which echoing pizzicato and various treated sounds penetrate and resolve again to give an overall effect suggestive of Henry Flynt as well as Steve Reich. 


The production is crystal-clear and, as noted, makes the most of the recording space and/or production techniques. The flugelhorn isn’t audible as such, even on the track credited to Barros (“Cielo Sagrado”), but apparently combines with the other instruments that swaddle the viola on some of the tracks, including Pássaro,” which flutters and rustles like its namesake, as well as closer “Infinito,” which serves as a fitting coda to the set. 


While this music is certainly free, then, it is not necessarily identifiable as jazz in the strict sense. Open-minded listeners, though, will recognize Muda as, in the words of one perceptive jazz critic, “improvised music for heart, body and mind” and find much to enjoy in this inventive, occasionally challenging, and frequently lovely recording. 

Available on Bandcamp.