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Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Q&A with Rodrigo Amado (Day 2/2)

Rodrigo Amado. Photo (c) Cristina Marx/Photomusix.

By Paul Acquaro  

It's always a pleasure to hear a new recording from Lisbon based saxophonist and photographer Rodrigo Amado. His groups, such as the Motion Trio, The Attic, This Is Our Language quartet, as well as his work with guitarist Luis Lopes' Humanization 4tet, among many other collaborations, always features his rich, brimming playing. Brimming with what? The easy answer is 'life', which is a bit of dodge. However, it's full bodied, warm, steeped in classic jazz but boundary pushing at the same time. I have had a copy of the Humanization 4tet's 2020 release Believe, Believe in rotation in the car for months and the opening moments from the track 'Eddie Harris / Tranquilidad Alborotadora' is the proof that I offer to support my argument.

This autumn, Amado released two albums, one, his first solo recording Refraction Solo (Live at Church of The Holy Ghost) and Love Ghost with his long standing trio The Attic (both reviewed here). In addition, Amado has put together, and is playing a series of dates with a new group, The Bridge, featuring the renowned pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach. It seemed like as good a time as any to talk with Amado about his recent work.

PA: Could you tell us about some of your recent projects? You have two new albums out - one a solo (Refraction Solo (Live at Church of The Holy Ghost)) and the other with somewhat frequent collaborators (The Attic - Love Ghosts), plus you have tours in Europe and recently did some work in Brazil, please fill us in ...

RA: Well, I guess it's all part of the same continuum. But I never take things for granted so I feel absolutely privileged to be able to keep doing what I love to do. The solo album represents a huge milestone for me. Never really planned on it but after the two year pandemic period and spending countless hours in the studio practicing by myself, I felt I had things to say that were connected to the solo discipline. A kind of statement where I would expose bare my language structure and how it was so deeply influenced by the classic jazz songs of Rollins, Cherry, Coleman, Rivers, Coltrane, Monk and others. First decision was to play a series of solos that I named "Refraction Solos". Then, after playing a few and listening back to the recordings, I realized I could actually release an album. That represented a huge responsibility, mostly because of the towering legacy of solo saxophone albums by people like Parker, Braxton, Mitchell or Butcher, among many other classics. In the end, I feel really happy about Refraction Solo and, most important, I feel at peace with it. Regarding The Attic's Love Ghosts, I'm proud that we were able in a few years time to release three albums that are as different from each other as they also represent a consistent development in a group language. Would love to play more live with this trio. And besides this ever expanding release activity, the live concerts is where I really feel the music transforming and advancing. So, it was great to have a strong series of shows, in Brazil and Europe, leading to the premiere of The Bridge, the new quartet with masters Alexander von Schlippenbach, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Gerry Hemingway.

PA: One of these groups, The Bridge, includes Alexander von Schlippenbach. How did this group form?

RA: The Bridge was initially supposed to be a one off group. I received an important proposal by the Philharmonie Luxembourg, for a specific date, and my initial idea was to perform with the This Is Our Language Quartet (with McPhee, Kessler and Corsano). But McPhee couldn't do it. So, I started thinking about an alternative. After juggling with several different scenarios, I just realized it was the perfect opportunity to play test a new strong formation. First musician in my mind was Schlippenbach. The concerts with Motion Trio had been a total blast and I was eager to get on stage again with him. Then, there was Ingebrigt. I've been following closely his playing for many years. We did some beautiful playing together in Trondheim and I couldn't imagine a better anchor for Schlippenbach's metaphysical power play. Finally, when thinking about a drummer to complete the quartet, I recalled seeing Hemingway at Saarbrucken, in November 2021, and being totally blown away by his playing, a mix of subtle nuanced drumming and sheer mind-blowing energy. When I wrote Hemingway with a proposal, I figured it as a long shot. After all, he was the drummer on that mighty Braxton quartet, for all those years. I was really happy and surprised when he almost immediately said yes. After that, things caught the dynamic of a roller-coaster. Word start to spread about the group and we kept getting all these amazing proposals to play festivals and clubs all over Europe. 2023 is going to be intense!

Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio with Alexander von Schlippenbach (Miguel Mira on Cello)
Ausland, Berlin 2019. Photo (c) Cristina Marx/Photomusix

PA: Are you or the others composing for the group or is your music entirely improvised? Any plans for the band in the studio?

As with all other projects I lead, this is a totally improvised unit, of the "real time composition" kind. When we played our first gig in Warsaw, for a totally packed Pardon To Tu club, I felt there was a strong adaptation process, by all players, getting in the way of a consistent structure. We played one set, for one hour and a half, and the audience was ecstatic. Even so, I couldn't feel totally satisfied with the result. Next day, when we hit the stage for the second concert of the quartet, everything was suddenly there - the structure, the improvisations, the rapport between each and the four of us, the silences... a kind of a perfect set for me, if there ever is one like that. I was so happy. Even more because the whole concert was registered in audio (multi track) and video. So, although I have plans to bring the quartet into the studio in May 2023, I guess we might already have the music for our first album.

PA: When you put together different groups, do you find that you consciously adapt your playing to the other musicians, or does something else occur?

To be honest, I don't even think about it. It is all a very intuitive process that I learned to trust over the years. Most of the thinking and the rational decision making goes into choosing the musicians. I choose to play with people that I perceive as musically compatible, with me and between themselves. After that choice is done, I just get the group together and play. All the adapting is done in the context of an improvised music, in a highly intuitive and organic manner. But even in this intuitive process, if we're talking about the groups I put together, I think most of the adaptation comes from the other musicians, and that's one of the reasons why most of my projects share a strong identity that has to do with my own language. Improvisation involves, by definition, a constant adaptation by all musicians in a group. But if we think adaptation in terms of the musical language we use in a specific context, then if I would adapt as much as all other musicians in my groups, I would end up with a discography made up by as many identities / sounds / languages as the groups themselves. And I feel that isn't really the case. All my different projects - Motion Trio, Wire Quartet, This Is Our Language quartet, Northern Liberties, have very strong personalities, but there's this thread of energy, this specific aesthetic, that's common with all of them. At least, this is how I see it.

Humanization 4Tet - Luis Lopes (g), Stefan Gonzalez (d), Rodrigo Amado (s), Aaron Gonzalez (b)
Ausland, Berlin. September 2021. Photo (c) Cristina Marx/Photomusix

PA: How about your work with musicians who have shaped the scene for decades like Schlippenbach and Joe McPhee, do you think this in some way influences you? If so, how?

Working with musicians as experienced and, let's face it, as genius as Schlippenbach and McPhee has not only influenced but deeply transformed my music. This transformation has been very tangible to me, very real. After the first concerts I did with both of them, I felt my music was not the same anymore. Like years of condensed knowledge were flowing into my playing, into my instincts. I do believe that playing with musicians stronger and more experienced than yourself is the most powerful learning tool for an improviser. Having said that, I have to add that similar processes happened with me in the past with musicians like Bobby Bradford, Peter Evans, Jeb Bishop, Steve Swell or Carlos Zíngaro. Usually, I can even pinpoint exactly what I learned / gained from each of these individuals.

PA: I'd like to pivot to the solo recording. In your notes for Refraction Solo, you mention specifically the experience of the pandemic and how it led you to adopting some new practicing techniques, could you talk a bit about this? Did this lead to the development of the solo material?

Yes. That long period of confinement was particularly productive for my practice routine and overall, for my work, including photo work. There were much less distractions and the general "deserted" vibe going on in the streets and other places was very propitious to a stronger focus and concentration. So, I was spending a huge amount of time in the studio, practicing, researching. After a while, my usual practice routines started wearing thin and I felt the need to develop new strategies. I explored deeper into multiphonics and altíssimo register but also felt the need to disrupt my regular improvisation / language practice. That's when I started picking up classic jazz themes that were important in my development process, part of my roots, all these classic songs by Rollins, Cherry, Coleman, Rivers, Coltrane or Monk. I would just play the heads, over and over, with all kinds of variations in dynamics, intonation, speed, attack, and then would slowly start to deconstruct them, trying to identify the core elements in the melody, and getting rid of all the rest. In the end, I would get to a point where the original tune was virtually unrecognizable but where I could still identify the original impulse, almost like identifying the original emotion that lead to that song. My goal was to incorporate these core elements into my own improvised language, in a refraction process that started in the original song, passing through me and ending up in a improvised statement that relates to the root. Of course, this was necessarily a very personal and intimate process that might not make sense for others. Even so, this lead to a strong urge to perform solo - I did a few shows right off the pandemic - and when I started to listen to the recorded materials I could easily identify all the refraction process. It felt consistent.