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Saturday, August 5, 2023

Sei Miguel - The Original Drum & Road Music (Clean Feed, 2023)

By Stef Gijssels

Over the years, this blog has repeatedly praised the music of Portuguese trumpeter Sei Miguel, whose playing and compositions/improvisations all have an easy to recognise quality. His sound is full of deep melancholy, open-textured and vulnerable, like intimate conversations with long-time friends. There is no need to hurry, quite to the contrary, sounds and songs need their time to develop, even if that is already too strong a word, as if the single moment of the sonic conversation is just extended, like there is also no need to be loud or chaotic, resulting in this gentle, well-paced and friendly atmosphere. His trumpet-playing always stays within the same narrow register, and produces gliding and bending tones gently, full of subtle emotions of constrained power and sadness, like the human voice, with phrases often ending in a rising pitch, like asking a question, further encouraging the dialogue or trialogue. His music is like a personal free jazzy version of the blues, built around recognisable structures, at first sight sounding always the same, but getting their unique quality in the sensitivity and emotional power of the delivery.

As he writes himself: "My pieces, more or less ambitious, are on the brink, the edge: between what I think I know and what I think I ignore. Visions. Tributes. And, of course, also a means to highlight the talent of musicians I am grateful to work with."

There is a lot of humility in his music, and that alone is by itself valuable. 

Sei Miguel - The Original Drum (Clean Feed, 2023)

"The Original Drum" consists of small ensemble pieces, each time with Miguel on trumpet and his long time musical companion Fala Mariam on alto trombone, whose tonal spectrum and sensitivity are a wonderful match to the trumpeter's. 

On the first track, "Primera Tambor" (or the title track in Portuguese), the duo gets the support of André Gonçalves on Lyra-8 synth, and Raphael Soares on claves. It is a slow and cautious piece led by both horns, yet the synth's discreet sound and the precise and controlled percussion lift it up to a different level. 

"Asterion" starts with Miguel's muted trumpet, a slow lament, that is joined by the 'udu mbwata' of Monsieur Trinité, who also performed on Sei Miguel's "Salvation Modes", and with Ernesto Rodrigues on viola. The piece is a little more intense, tighter too in terms of the common movement of the instruments, but without actually creating themes. 

On "Sentinella" the horns are joined by other wind instruments: Nuno Torres on alto saxophone, Paulo Curado on flute, Bruno Parrinha on alto clarinet and Rodrigo Amado on tenor saxophone, Raphael Soares on claves, and Sami Tarik on tamborim. Even if the music is now performed by an octet, the fragility and open texture of the sound remains, as is the conversational tone of the music. Instruments join in the discussion, parlando style, then give the floor to other instruments or create drone-like soundscapes for the others to improvise on. The piece has an ambiguous quality, both mournful and joyful. The well-chosen percussion adds an even stronger quality to it. 

The album ends with "Samba Infinito" on which Miguel and Mariam are joined by Sami Tarik on pandeiro, Rafael Toral on 'modified Marshal MS-2 amplifier feedback' and with Helena Espvall on cello. The piece is held together by Tarik's percussion, now at a slightly higher tempo than the other pieces. At times the instruments add some minor sounds, little granular bits, while Espvall's cello does the opposite: work on long bowed notes, circling around a tonal center. Miguel and Mariam disappear from the music, leaving the space to the cello, the electronics and the percussion, only to come back near the absolute end. The result is mesmerising. 

Sei Miguel has an incredibly great ear for sonic arrangements, for how even unusual - and sometimes also contrasting - instruments can make his musical vision work. My guess is that he has a very strong relationship with the musicians who play these instruments.

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Sei Miguel Unit Core - Road Music (Clean Feed, 2023)

"Unit Core" consists of Sei Miguel on pocket trumpet, Fala Mariam on alto trombone, and Bruno Silva on electric guitar. Pedro Castello Lopes joins on triangle (track 2), clave (track 3), pandeiro (track 4), and kalengo (a talking drum, also known as 'bitin obonu' (track 8). 

As Miguel writes: "The trios or quartets I have been showcasing my work on the road, for many years now, provide the most refined examples of my writing; sometimes simple tunes, sometimes a radically simplified version of larger pieces in the orchestration concept. These are, in fact, my Jazz Standards. My life has evolved around them, and still does". 

The music has its typical intimate conversationist mode, a little sad, a little mournful, played with care and precision. The percussion by Pedro Castello Lopes in absolutely minimal, accentuating the sober and light-textured nature of the sound and joing the conversation rather than creating rhythm. Bruno Silva's guitar is nothing less than exquisite: calm, sparse, elegant and played with lots of open space between the different notes or arpeggios. 

This is a live recording, with performances recorded between 2016 and 2021, in different locations in Portual. Miguel often gives introductions to his compositions/improvisations in Portuguese, and not always very audible. I have no idea what he's saying, but it shows the importance he gives to the interaction with the audience. Luckily the enthusiasm of a clapping audience is also kept, which gives the music an even more human quality. (The only downside is that the large audience for some pieces at the beginning become small audiences after other tracks, giving the impression that many listeners left the room, which is of course not the case).

Listen and download from Bandcamp

It's hard to say which of both albums gets my preference. I like Sei Miguel's approach to music, his sense of space and ensemble interaction, his feeling and spirituality. I can only recommend to check out both albums. 


Allan said...

Great reviews Stef.
I find Sei Miguel fascinating and Clean Feed should be congratulated on helping to raise awareness in his music.
If only they could acquire the rights to issue the three early Ama Romanta LP's on CD.

Chris said...

I agree With Allan, those first three albums could really do with a reissue on CD!

Mulot said...

A third album was published on Shhpuma in January :

O Carro de Fogo de Sei Miguel - UM UM UM E N​Ã​O HÁ FORMA DE MORRER