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Macuco Quintet: Friendly Signs

Don Phipps By

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The Macuco Quartet's joyful and exuberant Friendly Signs suggests a Brazilian seaside or urban landscape where daylight tropical breezes and palm trees sway over a harbor and waves lap gently along a shore lively with music and dancing.

Joel Springer, the composer of all but one of the album's 11 tunes, keeps things on a playful boppish footing for the most part, and the group, composed of saxophonists Allan Chase, Rick Stone, and Springer himself, plus Fernando Huergo on bass and Austin McMahon on drums and percussion, embraces the whimsical compositions in a spirited manner.

With their complex harmonies and rhythms, the sax trio sometimes sounds like the World Saxophone Quartet (Springer's liner notes specifically cite Julius Hemphill as an influence and the only cover is the tune "Touchic" which was recorded by the WSQ). At other times, the trio play with a sophisticated Ellingtonian beauty. Often, one saxophonist will solo as the other two match wits with the rhythm section.

While the technique is impressive, what strikes one as significant is Springer's amazing arrangements, which give the players plenty of room to express the tropical influences of the music. "Itajuba" is about the closest thing to a ballad on the album, and in its subtle beauty, it is the only tune on the album that is more pensive than festive. "Friendly Signs" is a happy outburst with a Weather Report rhythm. "Modernismo" feels like a Rio beach scene, further enhanced by the tropical feeling in McMahon's marching solo. About midway through "Os Gemeos" the music becomes more abstract but does not lose its equatorial feel. "Postcard to Carla" is dedicated to Carla Bley. It's like driving a convertible top down on Rio's Avenida Vieira Souto on a crowded Saturday afternoon. "Leaping Over a Black Pool" hops back and forth, the music bubbling like a fresh helping of Sopa de Camarao. "Touchic" works as well, the drums and bass providing a solid foundation to the rhythmic jags of the tune.

Colorful, imaginative, and optimistic, the music on Friendly Signs is smile-inducing. At its best, it elicits memories of a resort, sipping milk from a coconut in the shade.

Track Listing: Macucos; Itajuba; Friendly Signs; Modernismo; More Serious; Os Gêmeos; Postcard to Carla; Sun & Clouds; Leaping Over a Black Pool; Johannzinho; Touchic' (by Julius Hemphill).

Personnel: Allan Chase: soprano, alto, baritone saxophones; Rick Stone: alto saxophone (right channel); Joel Springer: tenor, sopranino saxophones; Fernando Huergo: bass; Austin McMahon: drums, percussion.

Title: Friendly Signs | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Lowdog

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