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Monday, March 25, 2024

Carlos Bica - Playing with Beethoven (Clean Feed, 2023)

By Stuart Broomer

This recording sat around for a while, collecting my increasing interest, I confess, without me getting around to engaging with it to the extent it required. I was initially drawn to it by a 50-year fondness for Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Opus '70 (1969), a work for an improvising quartet using materials drawn from Beethoven. Playing with Beethoven is the work of a well-travelled veteran, bassist, composer and bandleader Carlos Bica, whose playing possesses a tremendous elegance, his arco playing often sounding more like a cello than a bass. He’s accompanied by a collection of fine musicians, though their instruments hardly form a typical alignment: Daniel Erdmann, plays tenor and soprano saxophones, João Barradas, accordion, and DJ Illvibe, turntables. Whether it’s the musicians, the instruments or the material, composed over generally familiar Beethoven themes, everything is inspired and worked with a kind of transcendent lyricism. Especially on tenor, Erdmann possesses one of the great lyric tones, as compelling in its own way as Getz or Coltrane. It’s immediately apparent on the opening “Leonore”, composed by Carlos Bica “after” Beethoven’s “Leonore Overture No.3”.

Part of the recording’s genius is that, in a world of improvised music, it’s almost “overcomposed”, composed to the point where methodologies collide, fracture or, most happily, elide into new sonic worlds. Each of the 11 tracks is both “after a Beethoven composition” and also credited to an individual—eight to Bica alone, one to Bica and João Paulo E. da Silva, one to João Barradas (a luminous solo) and one to DJ Illvibe, but it hardly stops there. Beethoven/Bica’s “Tiny Change” has Illvibe inserting and altering a hefty sample of Tom Wait’s “Small Change (Got Rained on with His Own .38)” then altering Erdmann’s tenor as well with bubbles of pitch- shifting entering the saxophonist’ lines. “Euch Werde Lohn In Bersern Welten” has a recording of chanting and a great stereo duet by Erdmann and Erdmann. Illvibe’s “Kids See Ghost Sometimes” is the turntablist’s solo piece constructed on the ruins of “Moonlight Sonata” with an R&B vocal, a distorted trumpet and a mangled horror movie theme adding to the haunting.

Whether individually or collectively, the group creates its own radical space out of a sense of reverence and/or playfulness — apart from Ill Vibe everyone is essentially a lyrical musician (maybe him too), with Barradas a kind of national treasure of accordion tunefulness, possibly sampled in repeating chunks by Illvibe.

The special joy of this music is that you can put it on repeat and it will always sound both the same and different (“Leonore” really is more beautiful with every pass), almost like a collection of radios tuned to random stations. Oddly, it intrudes not on the listener but on itself, the easy listening music of chaos, something the world itself can’t stop making and for which we have a legitimate need, as in this wondrous product that makes classical beauty at once classic and beautiful in a fresh way.


joe.po said...

Stuart .. thank you for pointing at this production. By the way, because it's not really free either, since its release, "Carlos Bica + Matéria-Prima" has been one for the island for me…

Carlos Bica said...

Thank you Stuart Broomer, I love the way you put the music of "Playing with Beethoven" into words. Great CD review ❤️

Don Phipps said...

This album is a hoot - love the accordion!