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Nelson Cascais: Nine Stories (2005)

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Nelson Cascais: Nine Stories How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Like the country itself, the jazz scene in Portugal is small, but its exquisite aesthetics are quickly revealed to those with only the willingness to explore. Your faithful musical travel guide points you in the direction of bassist Nelson Cascais and this exquisite slice of elegantly arranged small-group jazz modernity, one devoid of any obvious Latin influence.

The revelation here is that all the flavors that make this cozido special do not emanate from Portugalia. The sublimely soulful and delectably discerning American organist and pianist Jesse Chandler is on hand to incite the proceedings into the not-to-be-missed category. For the unfamiliar, Chandler was responsible for the most refreshing jazz organ recording of the new millennium, 2004's Somewhere Between, employing a deftly imaginative sound palette and prioritizing modern rock's emphasis on melody. Rather than tour behind this impressive effort, Chandler absconded to Portugal, where, it seems, he quickly fell in with the cream-of-the-crop of Lisbon's jazzers.

The 32-year-old leader Cascais reveals himself as a composer to be reckoned with here, penning all of the session's originals. The hypnotic "De Manhã Começa o Dia breathes as it seemingly slows and speeds, encompassing the listener in a swirling, yet soothing embrace. And yes, its Chandler's Rhodes that's most responsible for the harmonic cushion, the plush pillow that's engulfing your head through your earphones. But the cascading sax and guitar melody, with Cascais placing his simple three-note bass line at perfect intervals, is what draws you in. Pedro Moreira's fat-toned tenor solo touches on adventurous harmonic ground, proficiently and playfully skirting territory that might detract from the vibe, while 29-year-old guitarist André Fernandes' warm lines navigate the changes with equally ear-grabbing, yet airier flair.

"Tin Hau features Chandler's piano and Bruno Pedroso's drum kit fluttering the harmony, with Cascais' looping bass tethering the band to earth while Moreira's soprano doubles itself to state the arching melody. Fernandes' extended guitar feature somehow incorporates an aggressive pitch-bending glissando device—an effect usually incorporated into rock or the avant-garde—while getting consonant, pitch-perfect, if you will, results. Something totally different, but after hearing it, simply irreplaceable in context. Chandler then recontextualizes the remainder of the tune in pastoral neo-classical mode before it comes together, restating the spiraling head on the ride out.

The non-originals pieces include two incredible covers of modern-day giants of epic melancholia, Radiohead's "Knives Out and Elliot Smith's "Waltz#1." Both could handily crack the Billboard pop chart with a few ounces of promotion. After listening to Morera's saxophone invoke Thom Yorke's emotive tenor and his passionate dance with Fernandes' guitar in the solo section, point your ears towards Chandler. Marvel at the atmospherics conjured by his organ and the sounds enticed out of it—coupled by the way he plays, it seems, simultaneously in duo with every instrument.

The empathy between the players, coupled with the hook-laden compositions and atmospheres, make this one of 2005's most compelling sessions.

Track Listing: De Manh Comea o Dia; Sexta Feira 13; Punctum; A Casa Amarela; Tin Hau; Knives Out; Along Came Betty; Kormiltoff; Waltz #1.

Personnel: Nelson Cascais: acoustic bass; Pedro Moreira: tenor and soprano saxophones; Andr Fernandes: guitar; Jesse Chandler: piano, Rhodes, Hammond Organ; Bruno Pedroso: drums.

Record Label: Tone of a Pitch Music

Style: Modern Jazz


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