Portuguese bassist/composer Miguel Ângelo has been much in demand on the Porto jazz scene since graduating in Double Bass and Jazz from the School of Music and Performing Arts in 2008. His collaborations have been numerous and he has guested on five recordings since 2012. Branco, his debut as leader, showcases Ângelo's writing skills as much as his effortlessly lyrical bass playing. The common denominator of these nine originals is their melodic flow. Whislt there are no shortage of solos, virtuosic displays are never at the expense of the collective narratives.
Ângelo is joined by alto saxophonist Joăo Guimarăes and Swiss drummer Marcos Cavaleiroboth of Orquestra de Jazz de Matosinhos fame---and pianist Joaquim Rodrigues, who also lends subtle textural variety on Rhodes. Tight quartet interplay, unison lines between piano and saxophone, driving vamps and memorable heads are the order of the day. "Cem" ticks all those boxes, as the sunny melodic intro ushers in Guimarăes, whose lyrical lines dance over probing bass and lively drums. Rodrigues' understated Rhodes brings a contrasting lightness to the aural composition before he in turn gathers wind in his sails.
The rhythmically buoyant "TraMal" cruises breezily as first Guimarăes and then Rodrigues stretch out, with Cavaleiro's constant invention a spark to their touch paper. Saxophonist and pianist weave tight unison lines on "Maior," another lightly skipping number; Ângelo delivers a singing solo to which Guimarăes and Rodrigues respond in kind as the quartet's momentum builds. The slow atmospherics of "Carnival" signal a collective change in gear; piano and bass waltz slowly in tandem as Cavaleiro's brushes provide sympathetic support to Ângelo's hushed lyricism.
The shifting dynamics of "Voltas?" provides an album highlight. Ângelo's extended unaccompanied bass intro is followed by Rodrigues' lively left-hand piano vamp and a simultaneous jaunty melody carried between piano and saxophone. Guimarăes compellingly lyrical tale forms the centerpiece of the composition. The balladic "Já Não Voltas!" highlights Ângelo's romanticism as composer and soloist, with Rodrigues also quietly beguiling. "Estória" parts from Guimarăes simple motif, and is built upon Rodrigues and the saxophonist's extended solos.
More memorable is the title track; elegiac piano, quietly rumbling malletts and sotto voce bowed bass form the canvas for Guimarăes patient exploration. Almost imperceptibly, the quartet's individual contours gravitate towards a unified statement that faintly echoes John Coltrane's more soulful incantations. "Branco" would have made the perfect album closer, but that honor falls to the short-lived "Tempo," where Ângelo's scintillating bass and Rodrigues' Rhodes dabs underpin Guimarăes' dominant melody. An animated Cavaleiro has the final say with a brisk solo feature over a group vamp.
Branco's nine themes are possibly a little too similar stylistically to make this a truly stand-out debut. Nevertheless, there's elegance in Ângelo's writing that doesn't confuse stridency with passion and there's plenty of the latter in the quartet's quietly intelligent, melodic dialog. This is a satisfying offering from the Porto bassist and a harbinger of greater things to come.
Cem; TraMal; Maior; Carnaval; Voltas?; Já Não Voltas! Estória; Branco; Tempo.
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