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Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Gonçalo Mortágua, Ernesto Rodrigues, Guilherme Rodrigues & Günter 'Baby' Sommer - Not Bad (Creative Sources, 2023)

By Nick Ostrum

Recorded live at Studio Zentri Fuge in Berlin in 2022, Not Bad is an unconventional collaboration, but one that really needed to happen. On the one hand, you have the Portuguese avant-garde. On the other, you have the ever curious, ever clangorous father of (East) German free jazz drummer Günter ‘Baby’ Sommer. Generations are colliding here, and in both clamorous and complementary ways.

The music lies somewhere between the rough, cryptic, amelodic free jazz that followed the halcyon blowout days of the late 1960s and the spacious, extended-technique minimalism widespread today. Of course, these are all distinguished practitioners of this aesthetic area. Gonçalo Mortágua is the only member of this quartet I had not encountered before and his honks, squawks and wavering scales (and biting flute on Grenze zu) blend in seamlessly. Ernesto and Guilherme Rodrigues are ever curious and inspired. Indeed, I think the years-old turn from the early period of whispers and Spartan restraint has offered both musicians new and vital tonal and melodic spaces to explore, however drawn-out, contorted and irregular those may be. Sommer is in top form, playing with textures, timbres and wandering rhythms in his quasi-shamanistic way and lending both gravity and playfulness to a style often considered alienating and cold, at least by those who have not taken to it. Then, there are the melancholy pieces, such as Seide, Samt und Kashimir, that have a real warmth, melancholy and melodic clarity absent much of the rest of the album, though floating on a tide of scrapes, shutters and other sounds that keep it in the character of this session.

Not Bad is classic Anglo litotes, though captured so convincingly by this German-Portuguese quartet. This is hardly fire-music, but it is confrontational and is filled with sounds in an aesthetic deeply rooted in Euro-improv both contemporary and of the later 20 th century. This does not stand out because it breaks the mold, but because it fits that mold so tightly, at times maybe cracking it, that it stands as an exemplar. Not Badwill likely not disappoint.

Not Badis available on bandcamp as a download and as a CD in choice brick-and-mortar-and-online music stores.