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Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Old Mountain – Another State of Rhythm (Clean Feed, 2024)

By Don Phipps

Another State of Rhythm by Old Mountain, a quintet which features Pedro Branco on piano, Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Joao Sousa on drums, and two bassists, Joao Hasselberg and Hernani Faustino, offers bluesy and soulful introspection within music of grace and beauty parsed with free playing elements and abstractions.

The musicians draw upon a wide range of historical idioms – for example, the opening number, “Goodnight Irene,” a 1933 Leadbelly composition, offers a mix of Branco’s free playing juxtaposed with Malaby’s soulful melodies and the gentle rocking rhythm of the bass players and Sousa’s drums.

One is also struck by the solemn expressions of some of the numbers. For example, “The Sixth Commandment” offers a subtle repose, with agitating bass lines and harmonic piano abstractions underneath Malaby’s pleading wails. In “Ballad for Paul” the piano overtones provide a sorrowful counterpoint to the bass plucks and bowing that underlie the harmonics (captured magnificently by recording engineer Eduardo Vinhas). And, featuring Sousa’s colorful cymbal and drum work, “Blend in By Standing Out” combines moments of grace beneath its despondent themes.

Perhaps the most interesting tune on the album is also its longest – “Montanha” – which in Portuguese means mountain. It opens with Branco’s wistful lines which seem to imply a distant view of some mountain landscape that stretches forever. Importantly, Branco’s efforts are given space by the other musicians to fully come to life. After a pause, the music turns bluesy again – almost like a New Orleans funeral procession – suggesting the odd combination of sadness and joy. And for those who like pure free playing, the number “Freebus,” will not disappoint. Especially enjoyable here is Branco’s use of the upper registers of the piano to add sprinkles, flavor, and hops to the mix.

Those who enjoy a diverse palette of musical influences interspersed with improvisations that challenge while remaining grounded will most certainly enjoy Another State of Rhythm. Its compositions tinged with melancholy are a relevant reflection of today’s increasingly disappointing world.