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Friday, July 14, 2023

Luis Lopes: Mingling Control and Chance

Luís Lopes - Lisbon Paris: Stereo Noise Solo (Shhpuma, 2023)

Luís Lopes Abyss Mirrors - Echoisms (Clean Feed, 2023) 

By Stuart Broomer

Guitarist Luís Lopes has covered a spectrum of formats, from solo forms to large ensembles, from wholly improvised work to composition-driven music. Among prominent Lisboan musicians, he may be the one involved in the most diverse projects. He frequently participates in Ernesto Rodrigues’ large free improvising ensembles (often released on Creative Sources), and he leads small ensembles as distinct as Humanization 4-tet, the free-jazz-with-roots-funk-band with Rodrigo Amado and the Gonzalez brothers, and the Lisbon-Berlin Trio and Quartet, hard-edged ensembles working through Lopes’ complex compositions with Christian Lillinger, Robert Landfermann and Rodrigo Pinheiro. These two recent CDs highlight the poles of his expression, his solo noise guitar and his occasional adventures in large ensemble leadership.

It may be as a solo guitarist that Lopes travels furthest, ranging from the dream-like introspective recordings of his Love series (playing clean electric guitar on Love Song and Love Song: Post Ruins [the latter a work of sustained brilliance] and nylon-string acoustic on Emmentes, all on Clean Feed) to the hard-core feedback first heard on record on Noise Solo at ZDB Lisbon (LPZ). He returns to that approach on Lisbon-Paris, pressing the technique still further on two solo improvisations, each near-20 minutes in length.

According to a note on the Bandcamp site, “The music … was played with a 1968 Gibson ES-340 guitar… connected in stereo to serve a two-channel circuit, two voices, each [through] a chosen sequence of analogue pedals that attach to two tube amplifiers at maximum volume.” The result creates a remarkably fluid, controllable and complex feedback environment, regularly suggesting distinctly contrapuntal textures, with sustained wails against rhythmic punctuation, for instance, and with pauses of controlled and genuine silence. That will suggest an experimental complexity, which, insistently present, aligned with a strong shamanic component, the connectivity of the dervish’s mathematics and the physicist’s spell, at once mad and calmly refractive, at once both the creation of, and invitation to, ecstatic trance, for performer and listener, a complement to some of Keiji Haino’s work. The resultant work suggests not a solo but a feedback band, a mingling of control and chance (Lopes’ techniques extend to bumping the guitar across the floor like a rediscovered pogo stick) that stretches from collision to symphony. “Paris” makes particularly effective use of silence, creating a kind of language shaped by interruption.

Lopes is also no stranger to larger improvising ensembles. In 2015 (released 2018), he was part of Lisbon Freedom Unit, the nine-member ensemble responsible for Praise of Our Folly, with Lopes producing and mixing two days’ recordings of improvised music into a brilliant four-part suite. Other than Lopes, only Bruno Parrinha, here playing alto and soprano saxophones, appeared on the earlier piece. Recorded seven years after Praise of Our Folly, the tentet of Echoisms represents a very different instrumental balance, veering to both more electronics and amplification while also including a string trio. Flak is here playing electric guitar as well as Lopes; the bass, played here by Felipe Zenicola, is sometimes very electric; two musicians, Jari Marjamaki and Travassos, are credited with electronics; two tenor saxophonists are replaced by one, Yedo Gibson, who also plays alto and soprano. Where there was once a cello, there is now Helena Espvall’s cello, Maria da Rocha’s violin and Ernesto Rodrigues’ viola.

The strong roots in free jazz apparent in Praise of Our Folly are generally exchanged for greater sonic variety, filled with sharp contrasts, and a certain randomness that comes from broader distinctions among instruments’ timbres and the abstraction of the electronics. Lopes is credited with direction, which I’ll assume includes editing, and shares mixing (no easy task when dealing with ten instruments playing freely and ranging in volume from viola to tenor saxophone and electric guitars) with Flak. Echoism comes in seven movements. The work is continuously interesting with the sections – two saxophonists, two electronic musicians, three electric strings; a bowed string trio – often moving like walls of sound. For this listener, the finest moments are those when the various voices are most evenly balanced, in the brief “Echoism I” (five minutes), or when they rise and fall, each musician making distinctive points at various moments in the work and in the extended final movement, “Echoism VII” (17 minutes), a beautiful dispersal of voices that includes subtly lyrical passages from the guitarists, with flashes of every instrument coming to the fore.

Yedo Gibson frequently assumes the foreground with mixed results. Sometimes it’s a mannered distraction, but his best moment, both distinctive and powerful, comes with the sustained and concentrated wail of circular breathing at the beginning of “Echoism VI”, before the collective creative expression takes over.