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Fail Better!: OWT

John Sharpe By

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Taking Samuel Beckett's exhortation from Worstward Ho as a moniker—and a highly appropriate credo for improvisers to aspire to—Portuguese co-operative ensemble Fail Better! proffer their second release, following Zero Sum (JACC, 2014), as a limited edition LP on the Lithuanian NoBusiness label. Of the five proponents, likely the most familiar will be trumpeter Luis Vicente and guitarist Marcelo Dos Reis, both increasingly visible on the European scene and previously heard in fine style on the excellent Chamber 4 (FMR, 2015). Their countrymen alto saxophonist João Guimarães, bassist José Miguel Pereira and drummer João Pais Filipe complete the unchanged lineup which trades in spontaneous constructs full of quiet intensity but with a lyrical center.

As with the aforementioned disc, a collective ethos prevails as the participants focus on the overall effect rather than individual glory. Consequently the two horns frequently intertwine echoing each other's phrases, with Guimarães sharing Vicente's predominantly tuneful disposition, although not his sputters and growls. Dos Reis veers between a ringing consonant undertow and insistent rhythmic patterns which ground the improvisations. It's those occasionally surfacing fragments of melody and tempo which serve to keep the invention accessible.

A favored gambit is to contrast fast rhythm against slower horns to create a timeless drifting feel. "Former Times" establishes the template, whereby Vicente's muted murmurings are mirrored by Guimarães' alto saxophone to generate a languid mood, but pitched against Filipe's faster paced cymbal chatter and Pereira's rapid sawing bass, which conjures an underlying tension. With its powerful groove, stuttered trumpet imprecations, and electric guitar posturing, the incantatory stew of "Circular Measure" resembles something from Miles Davis' electric era, while on "Stellar" the droney atmosphere and distant whinnying trumpet bring a more ambient spirit to the fore.

Track Listing: Former Times; Sidereal; In Between; Circular Measure; Stellar.

Personnel: Marcelo dos Reis: electric guitar; Luís Vicente: trumpet; José Miguel Pereira: double bass; João Guimarães: alto saxophone; João Pais Filipe: drums.

Title: OWT | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: NoBusiness Records

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