Since his remarkable debut as a leader in 2017, Omniae Ensemble (Nischo Records), drummer and composer Pedro Melo Alves has quickly established himself as a vital force in the Portuguese jazz scene. With an uncompromising sensibility equally committed to avant-garde jazz and contemporary classical music, not to mention the jazz-rock experimentalism of his work with Rite of Trio, Alves' hybridity is his calling card, and it's a crucial characteristic of the new breed of creative jazz coming out of Portugal. Fellow mavericks like Luís Lopes, Marcelo Dos Reis, Susana Santos Silva and Luis Vicente are just a handful of the pathbreaking artists expanding the boundaries of the music, and there's no doubt that with In Igma, Alves should be added to their number.
Whereas the Omniae Ensemble bridges the realms of jazz and classical formalism, In Igma is best characterized as contemporary classical chamber music. Largely composed, with layers of abstraction and emotional complexities that defy easy description, the music casts a transfixing spell from beginning to end. Evoking both the Latin ignis for fire/brightness and a pun on "enigma," the suite utilizes a superb collection of musicians, including three vocalists Aubrey Johnson, Beatriz Nunes, and Mariana Dionísioand a set of leading-edge avant-gardists: bassist Mark Dresser, pianist Eve Risser, and guitarist Abdul Moimême. Together, they craft a sound-world that is somehow both cohesive and expansive, with a pervasive mood of mystery that exerts an irresistible pull.
Dissonance opens the album, as "Crack" indeed suggests a fissure, with the three singers' wordless vocals casting long, sustained notes in harmonic tension, as the rest of the musicians create a bed of unsettled discontent. Pulse is absent, with Melo serving as a colorist alongside Dresser's huge arco sweeps and Risser's prepared piano musings. Moîmeme's contributions offer additional texture, his assorted electronic and acoustic effects serving as percussive or tonal complements. With soaring passages of astonishing range and stunning technique to spare, the vocalists are usually at the center of the music, but never to the point of overwhelming the other musicians. "In Igma ICode" sees the vocalists contending with each other in a kind of fragmented conversation, attempting desperately to connect through their divergent expressions; but the rest of the ensemble is part of the attempt as well, drawing from the vocalists' energy and expanding upon their efforts. Even during the heights of abstraction, as in moments like these, the music's taut focus lends a solidity and purpose that holds the suite together.
It is a demanding and bracing listening experience, yet not without episodic transcendence and beauty. Risser's tender ruminations are at the fore of "In Igma IIOn Meaning," as the vocalists usher in an almost pastoral calm, before Dresser's ominous thunderings presage more unrest and the music reaches another peak of tumult. And the suite's culmination, "In Igma IIIOn Void" possesses an ecstatic fervor, with the ensemble attaining a crescendo of impassioned power before finally, gradually, withdrawing into exhausted oblivion, a cathartic release at the end of an invigorating sonic journey.
Crack; In Igma I - Code; Organum; In Igma II – On Meaning; In Igma III - On Void.
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