Susana Santos Silva: Devil's Dress (2011)
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The Portuguese big band Orquestra Jazz De Matisinhos (OJM) has played engagements and recorded albums with big names like Lee Konitz and Kurt Rosenwinkel. One of its trumpeters, Susana Santos Silva, has gathered four other members of the ensemble for her debut album, Devil's Dress. As with the OJM, Silva's music acts as a testing ground for challenges and concepts in composition and improvisation, scaled down to the intimate confines of a quintet setting.
Much of the quintet's music involves piecing together disparate influences and seeing how they fit. Silva's title track presents a knotty, clavé-based groove melody, switching for a moment into hard rock mode and then demonstrating how they can work together. Bassist Demian Cabaud's "En Febrero" leads in with gentle plucking that immediately and drastically shifts moods when paired up with an atonal horn intro. The gentle unison horn lines during the intro of guitarist Andre Fernandes' "Tomboy" start off wandering, mostly unaccompanied, but ultimately move into dangerous harmonic territory. The roles then switch, as the horn lines get bolder and the background settles into a grungy pulse. The quintet is not satisfied with the standard "intro-head-solo-head-outro" style of composition, constantly returning to the melody to "En Febrero," but adding more participants, between Fernandes' moments of manic breakdown.
The duo soloing and unconventional melodic lines between Silva and saxophonist José Pedro Coelho make for the set's more refreshing moments. "Go" moves out of time in a sort of snaky chase between the two instruments, while on "Warmth," the trumpet and sax combo reaches into sputtering free improv and falls into an even more poignant duo dance. The triumphant, triadic "Wishful Thoughts" provides a clever twist on duo soloing, with Fernandes manipulating his delayed guitar into a duo with himself, even linking up with his echoed self in harmony. The disc is full of quietly charismatic solos, with Coelho creating well-constructed serpentine lines and Silva occupying a sometimes crystalline, sometimes blistery middle range that is always full of melody.
The most valuable aspect of Devil's Dress is its room for expansion. The quintet makes a more than solid effort in the realms of free jazz, rock, Charlie Haden-style tone poems and authentic Latin-jazz fusion, and seems determined to try out as many styles, methods of composition and sonic possibilities as it can. Should a second disc be in the works, the group will naturally be able to select from fewer but stronger styles to craft an even more personal sound. For the present, however, Silva's quintet has proven itself among the ranks of adventurous modern jazz.
Track Listing: Go; Devil's Dress; Warmth; En Febrero; Wishful Thoughts; Tomboy; Claudia; Anjo de Guarda.
Personnel: Susana Santos Silva: trumpet, flugelhorn; José Pedro Coelho: saxophone; André Fernandes: guitar; Demian Cabaud: bass; Marcos Cavaleiro: drums.
Record Label: Tone of a Pitch Music
Style: Modern Jazz