Monday, August 13, 2018

CD Review: Rodrigo Amado - A History of Nothing/ The Thing - Again. Trost Records

Rodrigo Amado
A History of Nothing

Lisbon tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado continues to release a steady stream of albums, filled with strong free improvisation that incorporates the dynamics of compositions. Last year, he released The Attic, a strong trio session on Not Two with bassist Gonçalo Almeida and drummer Marco Franco. He's also featured inthe Lisbon Freedom Unit, which released Praise of Our Folly this year on Clean Feed. In addition to these he has released other albums of that were reviewed on this blog.

A History of Nothing features the saxophonist in the company of his longtime American friend  bassist Kent Kessler, as well as drummer Chris Corsano and saxophonist/trumpeter Joe McPhee. With a group like this, the rapport among the players is felt immediately. "Legacies" begins slowly and subdued, but the title track begins in a flurry of clucks and honks from McPhee's soprano saxophone and Amado's tenor. As the rhythm section moves rapidly beneath them, the two horns begin to move in ways that complement each other. Amado goes for long notes, overtones and growls while McPhee - whose tone nearly recalls that of John Coltrane - makes a longer statement.

For "Theory of Mind II (for Joe)," a CD-only track, Amado's melody initially trades his rugged tone for a smoky, straightforward delivery. That changes once Kessler finishes manhandling his instrument with a bow, making the mood a little wilder. McPhee lays out of this one, which gives the leader a chance to deliver some intense, raspy lines.

McPhee returns on "Wild Flowers" first on pocket trumpet, which begins the piece with some smeared, breathy sounds. He and Amado alternate, with McPhee switching back to soprano before both horns come together to close with a short line. Throughout the album, Kessler and Corsano inventively work with the two horns, not just supporting them but becoming part of the conversation. They open the final "The Hidden Desert" with some noise from each instrument. Corsano uses his own type of extended technique, with what sounds like a bow. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that the anchor of the slow bass pulse makes it feel like a ballad, relatively speaking. A pleasant surprise, of course.

The Thing
(Trost/The Thing Records)

The same Austrian label that released A History of Nothing has also released, or co-released, the latest by the trio of Mats Gustafsson, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love. Calling themselves a "garage free jazz trio" at one point, they have collaborated with such divergent acts as Neneh Cherry and James Blood Ulmer, in addition to working well on their own.

Gustafsson is arguably the most visceral of European free jazz saxophonist this side of Peter Brotzmann. He has mastered reeds both big and small to create some heavy music in a series of far-flung collaborations. (I recall one writer slamming an album where Gustafsson played with Sonic Youth, essentially dismissing it as one-dimensional squonk).

Although Gustafsson left his bass saxophone at home on the day of this session, his tenor and soprano work just as well as a sonic canvas. More than half the album is taken up by the 21-minute "Sur Face," an epic that proves the Thing can do plenty more than strong squonk. Bassist Flaten bows a melody together with Gustafsson that leads to a strong solo from drummer Nilssen-Love. Then Flaten and Nilssen-Love lock into a loopy vamp, which provides the ideal background from some tenor overtones. Once it falls apart, amidst some angry rhino grunts, the trio creates some tranquility in the final moments.

Joe McPhee also makes a cameo on Again, bringing his raucous pocket trumpet to a reading of Frank Lowe's "Decision in Paradise." He even adds some vocal yells to make his point. The whole track owes as much to the Thing's, and McPhee's, spontaneity as it does to Lowe's template.

Flaten switches to bass guitar on "Vicky Di," running it through a distortion pedal, giving his solo a mangled, metallic sound. When his Thing-mates rejoin him, Gustafsson has switched to soprano sax adding more excitement to the music. Relatively brief by some album standards, Again presents plenty of ideas in that period of time.

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