Listening to Ponto de Partida
(Starting Point), it's rather hard to believe that André Santos
has been playing jazz for less than 10 years. The young Portuguese guitarist's charming, understated debut album seems like the work of an older musician: one, perhaps, with nothing to prove except for the sheer enjoyment of making music. From the outset, Santos' playing seems allied with the mellow, moodily lyrical guitar style that many associate with well-known players such as Pat Metheny
and Kurt Rosenwinkel
. But Santos' album is not just easy on the ears; it's an engaging and thoughtful listen. It's not solely due to the quality of Santos' playing, or that of his capable and efficient backing band. Santos' compositions are more than just pleasant, and far more than mere blowing vehicles; they're beautifully crafted, with a touch of melancholy. Most belie a strong Brazilian influence while not coming off as "Brazilian music." There's also an eerie, dissonant rawness in Santos' music that creeps into the proceedings in the most unexpected places.
The quietly exultant "Zion" features layered, overdubbed acoustic guitars. The down-tempo, suite-like "Reverso da Medalha" juxtaposes passages of solo acoustic guitar and jazzier ensemble playing with Santos' percussive, effects-free electric out in front. "Siso" is quite a bit darker and a little heavier, with Santos playing the lead on a delicately fuzzed electric followed by a lengthy counter-melody with Ricardo Toscano
's alto saxophone out front. Santos' twisting, aggressive solo, and the overlay of quietly fluttering atonal saxophone at the piece's end, make the listener sit up and take notice. Joao Hasselberg
's stalking bass line on "Qwerty," one of the album's most dynamic pieces, gives Santos and drummer Joao Pereira
plenty of open space to interact before the mood gets more aggressive; Santos' solo here is a real corker. The quartet flirts with rhapsodic, turbulent free jazz á la late 60s / early 70s Keith Jarrett
on "Viagem De Olhos Vendados," and wraps up the album on an aggressive, noir-ish note with the passionate, rocking "Pressagio."
The remaining pieces, particularly "Avo Joao" and the charming "Mutantes," explore various aspects of the connections between Portuguese and Brazilian styles. "Avo Joao," with tenor saxophonist Gianni Gagliardi
is sort of an altered bossa with a pretty, hummable melody. The unbelievably charming "Mutantes" presents Santos in a trio with vocalists Joana Espadinha
and Margarida Campelo
. Again, Santos refers to Brazilian music without enslaving himself to it. Replete with odd and unexpected vocal harmonies and intervals of wordless singing over Santos' vamping acoustic, the tune is a bit reminiscent of Argentinian pop chanteuse Juana Molina
's quirky electroacoustic music.