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Saturday, October 14, 2023

Rodrigo Amado The Bridge – Beyond the Margins (Trost, 2023)

Rodrigo Amado has been putting together international bands for some 20 years, beginning with the shifting personnel of the Lisbon Improvisation Players and his early sessions as a leader, ad hoc assemblies of local musicians (e.g., Acácio Salero, Bruno Pedroso, Ulrich Mitzlaff and Carlos Zingaro) and American visitors (e.g., Ken Filiano, Steve Adams and Dennis Gonzalez). Early on, he put together a trio with Kent Kessler and Paal Nilssen-Love and then a quartet with Taylor Ho Bynum, John Hébert and Gerald Cleaver.

Through the 2010s Amado developed both his Lisboan Motion Trio with drummer Gabriel Ferrandini and cellist Miguel Mira, a group that has played and recorded with guests Jeb Bishop, Alexander Schlippenbach and Peter Evans, and the quartet that came to be known as This Is Our Language, with Joe McPhee, Kessler and Chris Corsano. The Bridge, playing together for the past year, is a new international assembly with Schlippenbach, drummer Gerry Hemingway and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, a special combination of talents and experience, not least for their leadership of, or membership in, bands with stellar saxophonists. One associates Schlippenbach with his own fifty-year leadership of a trio with Evan Parker, Hemingway with membership in Anthony Braxton’s most celebrated ensemble and Håker Flaten with Scandinavia’s ultimate power trio, The Thing with Mats Gustafsson. Hemingway and Håker Flaten have employed two of the world’s most under-recognized tenor saxophonists in their own groups, Ellery Eskelin and Dave Rempis, respectively.

More than mere expectation, there’s an air of excitement about the group, though its members go about their business with an involvement in the developing music so acute that it resembles a kind of omni-directional, omni-temporal relaxation and tension at once, in which the relaxation/ tension of great achievement accompanies the realization of the event.

The principal work here is the forty-minute “Beyond the Margins”, an extended free improvisation in which every musician is completely engaged in the evolution of a collective creation, each coming to the fore in the on-going dialogue to assume the lead or solo. It’s a kind of ideal conversation while simultaneously a collectively and continuously shaped creation, the substance of the time of its making. Different degrees of known and unknown content will arise, different degrees of formal marking, but at its best, such collective creation cannot be disputed or divided up, each stellar individual contribution conditioned by collective support and response, with Amado achieving levels of articulate intensity that may not have occurred on previous recordings. It’s essentially a trance, trance as transport and journey, its revelations signalled from the pensive grandeur of its opening through all its dimensions, including its abstract fluting, torrential knottings (perhaps matched elsewhere but not exceeded) and sudden liberations.

That epic improvisation is complemented by two brief but deeply traditioned pieces. The brief “Personal Mountains” is, if possible, perfect “free Monk”, tightly structured from the outset by Schlippenbach, Monk’s most thorough devotee, the melody and form picked up by Amado, Hemingway and Håker Flaten, the architecture executed flawlessly, as if it were how they regularly spent their time.

The performance of Albert Ayler’s “Ghosts” calls for a special note. A while ago, a performance video of Amado was circulating in which he played “Ghosts” with a student rhythm section and trumpeter Peter Evans at a workshop in the Azores. It was, as is this, extraordinary, both in its sound and its magisterial presence. On a personal note, once on a solitary midnight walk during a brief visit to Montreal in 1967, I went in search of The Barrel, perhaps the only place in Canada that regularly featured significant free jazz figures. In one of youth’s enchanted moments, my favorite musician in the world just happened to be playing there. Albert Ayler’s sound was blossoming out of the open door, expanding into the August night. I’ve never heard a saxophone sound as full or as complex, never quite caught on record, a broad sound that could begin in foghorn lower-register blast and trail off into upper partials as sweet, gauze-like and airy as those of Stan Getz.

There’s been a sudden flurry of Ayler derivatives in free jazz lately, generally a trivialization, a kind of devout mockery, of one of the greatest figures in the music’s history by some of the least skillful. There’s none of that here—instead that melody, initiated in a whisper, soars as authentic tribute and visionary invocation on Amado’s own rich, complex, precise and distinct timbres, inflections and emotions, each note, each sound as if weighed on an alchemist’s scale. As elsewhere, the group is superb.