The place of the guitar in the jazz mainstream appears to be one of continual fracture, in no small part due to the fact that it is the most open to influence from outside traditional improvisational music. That is to say, rock, folk, blues, and the preponderance of hollow-body stringed instruments in many other musical cultures makes jazz guitar pretty much open to a vast array of external influences.
For example, Portuguese guitarist Mario Delgado is one of the major contemporary figures on the instrument, melding jazz, blues, and noise-rock elements with an almost cavalier sensibility. In the United States, post-structural guitar improvisation has been turned inside-out several times by Henry Kaiser. All of this is not to say that the tenor saxophone has not equally been affected by sawdust-and-gutbucket blues and the shenai, but that the guitar has a lot of baggage. Two contemporary Portuguese guitarists have taken very different approaches to the instrument in a contemporary improvisational context, both rooted in subtlety and sensitivity and firmly within the jazz mainstream.
Clean Feed Records
Alfonso Pais, a onetime student in the New School's jazz program and soon to be a more familiar face on the New York scene, has assembled a rather auspicious debut in Terranova. Pais is joined for six originals and Monk's "We See by the pre-eminent rhythm section in Portuguese jazz, bassist Carlos Barretto and drummer Alexander Frazão a team who have graced as many open-music sessions as they have jazz-rock. Unlike Delgado (but somewhat like Joe Morris), Pais is a midrange improviser, creating a dynamic range through spatial relationships rather than volume, and is thus able to move in and out of discordant situations with a pronounced subtlety.
Barretto and Frazão are known for their plasticity, thus making them a rather wise choice for the elegant-yet-free chamber jazz of Terranova. "Domo da Metazona is a perfect example of this, based on a rather romantic folk theme for acoustic six-string, bass and percussion, which segues out of a lithe, repeating melody into egalitarian free improvisation almost imperceptibly.
Monk's "We See is rendered in a highly fragmented manner, its stop-time melody given to a cracked throb from the rhythm section. "Tanguilho makes use of a relatively simple modal theme and scalar solos, but the unison guitar-bass harmonies quickly dissolve into parallel and seemingly unrelated tempos during the improvisation. One might think that Monk is too "obvious" to provide a successful piece within a trio that seems to revel in its own subtle oddness, but the inclusion of "We See is a key to understanding what makes Pais and his mates tick namely, the ability to move perfectly within fractured spaces and without.
The Sound of Places
Clean Feed Records
Pedro Madaleno's quartet offering, The Sound of Places, was commissioned for the 2003 Seixal Jazz Festival as a suite evoking the variety of moods one finds in the Portuguese landscape, thus improvising one's way through characters of musical and cultural influence.
Madaleno studied jazz guitar at Berklee and with Ted Dunbar in addition to having played with Lee Konitz and Karl Berger, and this quartet (with Wolfgang Fuhr, tenor; bassist Nelson Cascais and drummer Dejan Terzic) has been active in some form or another since 2002 with the self-released recording, Earth Talk, the present album's prequel. One can tell somehow that a guitarist has worked with Dunbar; Madaleno has a predisposition to certain unison tenor-guitar head arrangements that one finds in grittier upstart Amanda Monaco's work as well, crisply voiced and off-meter over loose rhythm accompaniment. Fuhr, though, is not exactly a strong-bottom tenor player, and his smooth and overly sonorous lines blend just a bit too well and don't offer enough rhythmic or tonal variation to step away from the rest of the group.
"Campo offers an oddly loping rhythmic foundation mated to a stilted scalar head, but the lack of contrast between the instrumentalists gets in the way of any potential fireworks, and the easy facility with which Madaleno and Fuhr engage the material and the relatively static rhythm section don't push the music in any unexpected directions. Even as Fuhr digs in, it seems rather programmatic. This may be a necessity of the composition a trap one can fall into when an evocation is the order but as the tentative, muted steps of "Montahnas yield to clear thematic material at the "summit," the music's push seems too much a glide.
It is interesting to note two similarly subtle, midrange guitarists whose music offers a fairly comparable potential and vastly different execution. Pais is certainly aided by such a malleable rhythm section, not to mention a mode of acknowledging and subverting his own subtlety. With self-awareness and a willingness to fracture one's personal idiom, it is a wonder the ways in which a critic's expectations can be crumbled.
Visit Pedro Madaleno on the web.
Personnel: Alfonso Pais (guitar); Carlos Barretto (bass); Alexandre Frazao (drums).
Tracks: We See; Amozone; Domo da Metazona; Tanguilho; Zone-B; Terranova; Momentum.
The Sound of Places
Personnel: Pedro Madaleno (guitar); Wolfgang Fuhr (tenor sax); Nelson Cascais (bass); Dejan Terzic (drums).
Tracks: Campo; Montanhas; Água; Faróis na Noite; Deserto; Em Orbita; Igrejas.