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Album Review

Sara Serpa & André Matos: Night Birds


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Sara Serpa & André Matos: Night Birds
Night Birds, singer Sara Serpa and guitarist Andre Matos' third album together, offers an ethereal program of compositions written by the duo, separately and together. They are joined on various tracks by Brooklyn-based pianist-composer Dov Manski, South Korean avant-garde cellist Okkyung Lee, Swedish experimental singer Sofia Jernberg, Portuguese drummer João Pereira, and their young son Lourenço. The album concludes with a Béla Bartók bagatelle.

To begin with the intriguing closer, the Bartók is performed quite simply, twice, with slight variations on the repeat (octave, timbre, duration). Perfect pitch gives Serpa an advantage in singing music that is melodically off the beaten path, like this and other material in her repertoire. She uses an angelic head voice on a neutral syllable, each note pristine, a perfectly-shaped notehead floating through the soundscape. Whether the Bartók is offered as an acknowledgement of his influence on the duo, inspired by Chick Corea's explorations with Gary Burton, or another reason, it is a little gem. The "Fourteen Bagatelles, Op. 6" for piano (1908) spring from Bartók's research into central European folk music. Elements and processes gleaned from his analyses appear in the pieces, but radically metamorphosed. An echo of the folk idiom remains, but in a disembodied form well suited to Serpa's wraithlike vocal production and Matos' vaporous guitar sounds. Enigmatically, the sheer presence of the voice intensifies the folk resonance, reminding the listener of the source.

In contrast to the ultra cool of Serpa's persona as a performer, her compositions ("Family," "Degrowth," "Watching You Grow") speak to such burning questions as, "How do we nurture this precious and fragile microcosmos of watching a child grow while we witness our planet's destruction?" Her "Watching You Grow" begins with the recorded voice of her son, apparently practicing announcing plays in an exciting imagined soccer match. He seems to be pretending he's in a huge stadium, making his voice small to create the illusion of a powerful sound heard from far away. The magical upper-register tinklings of Manski's piano create the further illusion that the voice emanates from long ago, which frames the ensuing composition and improvisation as a reflection on his childhood from a perspective in the future. This adds a kind of nostalgia to the moment, a bittersweetness one might feel when encountering, as a grown person, someone who you have watched and helped to grow. Serpa's "Degrowth" begins with the lyric, "Fly less, drive less, walk more..." There is a particular pathos to this modest self-admonition, sung in lullaby tones, in the face of such enormous questions. One can empathize with the angst behind the composure, the effort required to maintain one's cool. The energy is palpable and poignant. (See YouTube, bottom of page.)

Matos' dreamy drone-infused "From a Distance," which features wafting bell-like timbres in the keyboards, is a program highlight. "Family" is another, with its gently rocking groove, acoustic guitar solo, playful multipartite structure, and especially the timbre of Lourenço's sweet singing voice blending perfectly with his mother's in interlocking parts.

Track Listing

From a Distance; Carlos; Melting Ice; Family, Night Birds; Counting; Underwater; Degrowth; Bergman's Island; Lost Whale; Watching You Grow; Bagatelle, Op.6: Lento.


Sara Serpa: voice / vocals; Andre Matos: guitar; Dov Manski: piano; Okkyung Lee: cello; Sofia Jernberg: voice / vocals; João Pereira: drums.

Album information

Title: Night Birds | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Robalo Records

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