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Friday, August 5, 2022

Jazz em Agosto 2022 (Part 2)

Part two in the ongoing coverage of Jazz em Agosto 2022. See part 1 here.

Monday, August 1

The day's adventure began with a walk along the multi-lane Av. Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian which took me to the Águas Livres Aqueduct. The impressive 18th century giant stone structure spans a valley between the main part of the city and the surrounding hills and has intrigued me since I first laid eyes on it. My goal today was simply to get as close as I possibly could, which, as I found out after winding about some complicated footpaths, is very very close. Climbing up from the base of one of the arches, I entered the Campilode neighbourhood and discovered the Museu da Aqua, a museum dedicated to the creation of the water system. It was closed on Mondays.

I then followed a blue dotted line on my Google maps from the top of the hill down to the Principe Real neighborhood, with a stop for a drink in the Amoreiras Garden / Marcelino Mesquita Garden, a lovely small park with a dense canopy of leaves. The park also abuts the Reservatório da Mãe d'Água das Amoreiras, a terminal building of the aqueduct which contains an indoor reservoir. Also not open, but it will be on my agenda to return to in the coming days. 

For now, back to the Gulbenkian Foundation where the concerts shift from the focus on Chicago to the fantastic music being made right here in Portugal, with a few geographical outliers thrown in.

6:30 p.m. Anteloper

Anteloper. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

At an early point in the pandemic, during the first set of lockdowns, I watched a streaming show by trumpeter Jaimie Branch. It was a low-fi, high-tech affair, in which Branch simply let her creative process drive the show. She played some trumpet, captured and reprocessed the sound, added some layers of electronics, and let it happen. She even sang a slightly sideways version of Moon River.

The duo Anteloper is this, but energized and magnified. Branch, along with drummer Jason Nazary, also allow their combined muse dictate in all of its unbridled creativity what happens on stage. The duo play against a motion image backdrop featuring kaleidoscopic images, sometimes overlaying images of antelopes, birds and tigers. These changing shapes and color schemes are a constant behind each set they play, which I am told is very different each time.

In the smaller auditorium of the Gulbenkian, the act of sitting during the set felt almost out of place. What they were doing -- Nazary playing complex drum patterns over electronic beats and amorphous pulsations, and Branch fiddling with samples, playing organ, and looping her trumpet -- would be entirely appropriate for being in an altered state of mind at big sweaty party in a warehouse that is soon to be torn down to make way for more luxury condos. On the other hand, the act of creation was also quite interesting to witness, and the results of thier sonic explorations was really enjoyable.

At one point Branch sang a lounge tune with the refrain, "we are not the earthlings that you know. It really makes you think, it really makes me drink." It was a fun tune and added a bit of gentle humor to the set. Aside from this Os Mutante moment, the music draws from hip-hop, punk, and 70's Krautrock (especially when Branch laid into the keyboards), but constructed out the controlled chaos, it is very much its own thing.

9:30 p.m., Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble

Black Monument Ensemble. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

The show began with an empty stage and the group's manager coming out to press play on a recording. As the song played out, the members of the Black Monument Ensemble took their places: Angel Bat Dawid on clarinet on the left side, Damon Locks on samples and electronics on the right. Then, in the backrow, the incredible rhythmic nexus of drummer Dana Hall and percussionist Arif Smith, and front and center, both of the stage and of the music, the singers Erica Nwachukwu, Monique Golding, and Tramaine Parker.

The group began with a catchy sample that the percussionists locked into immediately. Dawid unveiled a serpentine melody delivered with a distinctive tremolo, and then the singers began. An effervescent melody filled the air, simple and unbelievably catchy, it hooked the audience immediately. Later, Locks' narration added density to the breezy music, tracing themes of freedom and the conditions in the U.S.. "I can't rebuild a nation, no longer working out," rang out the repetitious and sweet-sounding chorus of one song, direct and effective.

Another important ingredient of the music's secret sauce was in the rhythms. This was underscored by a drum and percussion duet that drew a fit of applause from the enthusiastic crowd. After a ceremonial-like leaving of the stage to the sounds of the drums, to a standing ovation, the group came back for a final piece. From behind me I heard in a hushed voice, "wow, they never do an encore!"

Tuesday, August 2nd

6:30 p.m. - A Escuta ('To Listen'), a film about Carlos "Zíngaro" Alves

Portuguese violinist Carlos "Zíngaro" Alves is a seminal figure in the countries avant-garde musical history. He is a self described "well behaved misfit" who chose very deliberately to follow his own path. For a while, if you follow the news clipping that appears briefly on screen during the wonderful 65-minute film, Zingaro, being so outside of the culture, did not have anyone to play with in and around Lisbon. In fact, he spent much of his formative years playing outside the country. This is obviously a situation that has changed and Zingaro can now be found playing in many different configurations in Lisbon, including Jazz em Agosto this year with Turquoise Dream.

Inês Oliveira's film is a fresh blend of styles. A classic documentary approach is used for the aforementioned career retrospective done through showing old headlines, interviews, and concert programs, and an intriguing clip of Zingaro in perhaps the early 1980s performing a piece of new music accompanied by a giant stack of electronic gear. Then, employing a cinéma vérité approach, a lengthy film-within-the-film follows the quartet of Zingaro, Joelle Leandre, Paul Lovens, and Sebi Tramontana between performances on a recent tour in Europe. Finally, choreographed segments show Zingaro deep in thought, holding his violin, and simply waiting.

It is in small interactions, like one where Leandre has to carry her bass up a set of narrow stairs and then assemble it with Zingaro and Tramontana's help, or the conversation about the harsh reality of the creative music life while on a train to Vienna, that provides tacit commentary. Voice overs provided by Zingaro ruminate over the what led him from needing at a young age to be different, and to now, as he thinks about how to use the time he has left well.

It is fantastic film, that in a gentle and loving way gives a glimpse into the inner-life of an important and vital artist.

9:30 p.m., Tashi Dorji / Turquoise Dream

Tashi Dorji. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

Tashi Dorji, who readers of the Free Jazz Blog are likely to be already well informed about, took to the amphitheater stage on Tuesday night just as the sun had set. A lone figure in the middle of the large stage, he began his set with a violent slash at the strings of this electric guitar. Then, he paused. Then again, he struck the strings. A pattern began to emerge: a pause then a doubling down of forcefully strum arhythmic tonal clusters, sometimes a single high note would ring out clearly. Dorji began looping the rhythmic textures and layered on additional sound.

In some sense, Dorji was exploring and reinventing the guitar, live on stage. For a listener who has fixed ideas of how a guitar is typically played, they must see the guitar anew, as an object with many possibilities to make sound, including ones still waiting to be found. For example, at one point Dorji flipped the guitar over and rammed its headstock into the stage, letting the resonant vibration of the strings then ring out. It was a bit painful to see a guitar played this way, but I trusted it would be ok, as he is the professional. 

The experimentation goes beyond the guitar itself as well. During an extended section, Dorji laid the guitar on the floor and harnessed the resonating frequencies of the amplifiers and maybe even dabbled with the flow of electricity itself, to make an expressive array of tones. Using his looper, he developed a stomping rhythmic figure that he then used to accompany himself to a powerful end.

Turquoise Dream. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

When Turquoise Dream took to the stage they, in some sense, picked up with Dorji let off with textural sounds and some unorthodox approaches to their instruments. The acoustic quartet is Marta Warelis on piano, Helena Espvall on cello, Marcelo dos Reis on acoustic guitar, and Carlos “Zíngaro” on violin. The quartet's playing is free, ego-less and and unfraid. They began by creating a whirl of sound. Zingaro played a series of elongated tones as the cello and guitar played single, rapid notes, and the piano added a sprinkle of harmony. 

The group played in long concentrated passages, each musician engaged with their instruments in a seemingly solipsistic way, but were actually quite attuned to each other. The different solo strands would come together to reach intense musical peaks. There were no solos but each player would come to the fore at times, and often it would be Zingaro whose melodic contribution would cut above the others. Sometimes too, small sounds became important ones, like a scrape on the cello or a prepared plinking from the piano.

At one point, placing the guitar in his lap, dos Reis used mallets to strike his instrument, hitting the body of the guitar for its resonance and the strings to create an exotic chime. Another improvisation (each piece was short and had a distinct form) began quite harshly, but even through the most dissonant statement, the music was imbued with sentimentality, buoyancy, and in Zingaro's bowing, hopefulness. It was a lovely set, made so especially through the mix of gentle and somewhat musically violent moments.

Wednesday, August 3rd

9:30 p.m. The Voltaic Trio / Ahmed

Voltaic Trio. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

The first group of the evenings double header was the Voltaic Trio. I had a reviewed their album 290241 and spoke about their "face melting blast of electric noise and a wealth of harsh, but nonetheless, fascinating rhythms and textures" and was excited to experience it live. The Portuguese trio is Luís Guerreiro on trumpet and electronics (he gravitated to the latter this evening), Jorge Nuno on very electric guitar, and João Valinho on drums.

The set opened with an electric buzz and fizz from Guerreiro's complex seeming set up, which he delivered with flair, seeming to want to physical push a whole bunch of sound at Valinho whose drumming was an artful mix of heavy beats and a lithe pulse. Nuno's guitar buzzed along side the electronics. As the voltage increased on stage, Guerreiro pulled out his trumpet and blasted out a heavily effected series of long notes. The sound was a dense thicket of crackling and buzzing energy with some ringing notes from the guitar.

Nuno then experienced a technical issue, losing sound from his guitar. Guerreiro and Valinho valiantly covered with an intense electronics and drum duel, keeping the energy alive. When Nuno returned, the frustration seemed to pour out of him through his instrument with the energy amped up even higher into a explosive freak-out. The brief return of trumpet slid right in and added another layer of tension.

The next song took a more direct rock angle as Nuno rhythmically discharged a series of power chords, Guerreiro's electronics made a circular buzz, and Valinho worked out a series of slippery thwacks. Excellent and electric set, and many kudos to the band on how they handled the technical issue.

أحمد [ahmed]. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

After a quick change over, أحمد [ahmed] took the stage. Comprised of the British pianist Pat Thomas and saxophonist Seymour Wright, Swedish bassist Joel Grip, and French drummer Antonin Gerbal, the quartet creates music from the songs of the American bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, who integrated Middle Eastern and North African music styles in his compositions. With such far flung origins and influences, it makes serendipitous sense to have them playing in the middle of the festival whose theme connects US and Europe.

As I had described the group's performance at JazzFest Berlin 2021, أحمد [ahmed] "spent the better part of an hour locked in a hypnotic and demanding groove." This is their thing, and it's a physical wonder how they pull it off.

The set began with Gerbal playing a light "Caravan"-esque drum pattern. One could hear the exotic influences and accents and retro-groove. Wright came in with a purposefully disjointed phrase as Thomas concentrated on tone clusters in the middle range of the keyboard, hitting the high end of the keyboard with his palm for accents. Grip was the rock for the music to cling to, his bass line locked in tight with the drums.

The music is demanding, the group takes a phrase and begin working it in all possible ways and shapes. The riff is like a tape set to loop as the tape player is shaken, the voltage changed, and the play head jostled. The music is dynamic, building up to a formidable tempo and then kept at a high energy level for the next hour. At this pace, I would imagine the group to start seizing up, like an overheating machine. At some point, maybe 30 or 40 minutes into the set, they began to slow down, stretching out the notes and lowering the tempo. One might have thought, 'ahh they're winding down', only to be surprised at the quick reversal and the band reaching for a new high.