Carlos Bica & Azul
March 24, 2009
Some of the best performances that I have seen in recent years were the ones with almost no hype surrounding them. Such was the case with the free concert by Berlin-based Portuguese bassist Carlos Bica
and the Azul Triocompleted by American drummer Jim Black
and German guitarist Frank Mobus
courtesy of the Goethe Institute, which had organized the Middle-Eastern tour of the trio. With almost no publicity and with a casual audience that clearly did not have any knowledge about this trio, the audience was nevertheless quickly captivated by the sympathetic vibe flowing among the three experienced musicians.
The Azul trio has so far released four discs (Azul, Emarcy, 1996, Twist, Enja, 1999, Look What They've Done To My Song, Enja, 2003 and Believer, Enja, 1996) that demonstrated the group's song-based approach and highly collaborative interplay. All three musicians address their formative influences in the framework of Azulseventies and eighties pop songs, Frank Zappa fusion, progressive rock suites and soul jazz.
The trio began their concert with a cover of Melanie's flower-power anti-war, "What Have They Done To My Song, Ma?"reconstructing the song in a much more aggressive manner, shifting among constant changing meters, but never losing the lyrical theme. The next original, "Believer," emphasized the masterful rhythmic interplay between Bica and Black, each one extending the other's moves, and both attempting to challenge Mobus' well-structured solos with their own ironic and humorous gestures, mainly by Black.
Black has become the main weapon of this trio. His unpredictable style of drummingyou'll never know if he'll choose to be frantic, to rub the drums skins gently, to scratch the cymbals wildly with his sticks or a bow, or just to alternate constantly among meterskept Bica and Mobus alert and charged the usual melodic interplay with needed, risky edge. Sometimes it was not clear if Black himself knew what he was going to do next, but it was clear that he enjoyed this naughty playfulness. He managed to keep the audience fascinated with his playing, even during his most "outside" playing and especially when he used the bow, by his sense of humor and irony.
Bica showed the wide range of his musical language when he chose to cover folksy Portuguese songs and later a beautiful traditional Sephardic song, "Durme," on both showing his masterful arco playing. Mobus is a guitarist whose every solo, even an extended one, sounded as if he still was accompanying the other players, and each of his turns, moreover, was devoid of unnecessary pyrotechnics. The trio closed the concert with their ironic, anti-macho "John Wayne" and continued in the same vein with another song that stressed firm urban grooves, sounding as if Azul was paying tribute to the hypnotic, seminal German outfit Can.