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Sara Serpa: Close Up

Jerome Wilson By

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Portuguese vocalist Sara Serpa has been a significant presence on the New York jazz scene for several years now, creating music with literary and artistic allusions in the company of renowned musicians like Ran Blake, Nicole Mitchell and Tyshawn Sorey. For her latest project she leads a trio that also features saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and cellist Erik Friedlander. The music they make together, with Serpa often singing wordlessly, creates an airy tapestry of sound.

On "Sol Enganador" Friedlander starts with melodic pizzicato figures before Serpa's feathery murmuring enters, wedded to the keening breeze of Laubrock's soprano. "Listening" has a similar structure but at a slower tempo. Serpa's voice carries a more melancholy tone with Laubrock slowly moaning along on tenor. "Quiet Riot" has more of a circular dance configuration with the three trading short hiccuping phrases before Laubrock and Friedlander start swooping down loudly and chasing each other. "Storm Coming" spotlights Laubrock's breath control as she makes the sound of her tenor go from vibrating low hum to soft, ghostly melody before all three musicians climax in a resonating massed exhalation.

Three tracks on the CD come from literary sources. On "The Future" Friedlander bows passionately while Serpa and Laubrock maintain a steady pulse of clipped notes. Then Serpa sings words from a Virginia Woolf essay to a high-pitched up and down melody as her partners pick up the pulse beat. "Passaros," a Portuguese poem, is introduced by sighing tenor and cello before Serpa begins to sing in a beautifully clear voice. The tempo then picks up and all three players interweave phrases with Friedlander getting in some furious bowing. "Woman," from a text by French philosopher Luce Ingaray, brings forth Serpa's loveliest singing of the set, on a sad lament about the isolating effects of motherhood, while accompanied by sensitively melodic tenor and plucked cello. The final selection, "Cantar Ao Fim" makes a lovely benediction for the project. Serpa wordlessly hums a flowing, prayer-like melody by herself until Friedlander and Laubrock sneak in with hops and throbs, eventually bonding with Serpa's voice into a warm stream of music. Laubrock's warm tenor sound takes over at the end of the piece with some of her prettiest playing of the set.

The music of this trio is rich in both delicacy and strength, highlighting the humanity in Sara Serpa's voice and the quiet magic she and her two partners can conjure together. This is a lovely set.

Track Listing: Object; Passaros; Sol Enganador; The Future; Listening; Storm Coming; Woman; Quiet Riot; Cantar Ao Fim.

Personnel: Sara Serpa: voice, composition; Ingrid Laubrock: tenor and soprano saxophone; Erik Friedlander: cello.

Title: Close Up | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Clean Feed Records

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Close Up

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