Portuguese singer Sara Serpa is what is produced when the talents of Gretchen Parlato
, Simin Tander
and Tierney Sutton
coalesce. Her voice is light and elastic, sporting a fierce intellect. Couple this with a vision/sense of humor of a Nicholas Urie
and the result is a radioactive type of 21st Century Beat Poetry. Like Urie and his lyric book sources Excerpts From An Online Dating Service
(Red Piano, 2009)with text from the sameand My Garden
(Red Piano, 2011), drawn from the poetry of Charles Bukowski, Serpa mines literature ancient (Herodotus' fifth century Histories
on "Gold Digging Ants") and new (Ryszard Kapuściński's "The Shadow Of The Sun," on "Traveling with Kapuściński").
Serpa's use of the texts is sparse and serves as a jumping-off point for the composer/singer to indulge vocal/musical flights of fancy inspired by the verse. This creative freedom allows guitarist Andre Matos
and pianist Kris Davis
the same structured/free reign. Rounding out the band are the two crack timekeepers, bassist Ben Street
and drummer Ted Poor
, who also contribute as soloists on the edge, when not providing a solid rhythmic foundation to Serpa's musically transformed thoughts.
Serpa structures her compositions freely but precisely around the texts and their hidden meanings. "Pilgrimage to Armanath," based on V.S. Naipaul's "An Area of Darkness," builds on an inner motif, layered with voice, acoustic guitar and Fender Rhodes. Evolving from wispy to dense, Serpa navigates her composition to a quiet close, the only one that makes sense. On "Ahab's Lament" based on Melville's whale book, is, in contrast, solidly structured over geometric lines and undulating waves of sound. Serpa has quite the bag of tricks, she does.
This music, for the better part, is dark and brooding, both vocally and instrumentally. This is no mean criticism; Serpa is serious about her composition and it shows. She walks that fine line between the over-composed and unruly freedom (like politics, where the two movements meet in the back of a circular spectrum. Serpa is searching, and her search continues to provide compelling and provocative music.
Personnel: Sara Serpa: vocals; Andre Matos: electric and acoustic guitars (3, 6, 9); Kris Davis: piano, Fender Rhodes (3, 5, 6, 9); Ben Street: bass; Ted Poor: drums.