Since its inception in 2008 the RED Trio has been one of Portugal's foremost improvising ensembles. Pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro
, bassist Hernâni Faustino
and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini
stand upon the shoulders of the egalitarian trio legacy of pianists Bill Evans
, Paul Bley
and Howard Riley
; no-one leads, no-one follows, but, paradoxically, all three move as one. To celebrate a decade's existence, a noteworthy milestone for a free jazz combo, the principals convened with former and current collaborators, in Lisbon, in early 2018; this double-disc album exhibits the outcome.
As a departure from the improvised norm, each member brought a chart for interpretation with a subset of the assembled company. Working with invited guests has been a fruitful tactic for the outfit, which maintains its identity while at the same time expanding its emotional reach, resulting in Empire
(NoBusiness, 2011) and Summer Skyshift
(Clean Feed, 2016) with British saxophonist John Butcher
, and North And The Red Stream
(NoBusiness, 2014) with Norwegian vibraphonist Mattias Ståhl
. Both Butcher and Ståhl reappear here, along with luminaries from the fertile Portuguese scene such as Rodrigo Amado
and Luis Vicente
Each piece utilizes a different but overlapping cast, and each uses them in slightly different ways, revealing varying approaches to the conundrum of how to organize a large group of improvisers. While the numbers directed by Pinheiro and Faustino most resemble the RED Trio writ large, Ferrandini's contribution points more towards some of his solo dates, such as the sort of moody, carefully calibrated terrain investigated on Volupias
(Clean Feed, 2019).
Pinheiro's half-hour opening, "Corrente," presents a seamless series of instrumental combinations in quick-witted interplay. It begins with tinnitus level electronics from Carlos Santos which develop into a tangle of string plucks, sorties and taps from the threesome of Faustino, violist Ernesto Rodrigues
and cellist Ricardo Jacinto
. Perhaps inevitably, the brightest spots arrive when the RED Trio itself comes to the fore, at two points during the proceedings, first with Butcher and later Ståhl. The track finally builds to a seething ensemble, with Vicente's brassy shimmer a prominent texture before descending into murmurs then silence.
Faustino's 42-minute "Ditirambo" unfolds in an episodic succession of small group interactions, with the first nine minutes devoted to the RED Trio alone, albeit initially distributed in unusual formation. The cut opens with bass and piano strikes set amid space, inaugurating a drum solo which gradually gathers momentum and mass like a boulder tumbling down a hillside, demonstrating once again Ferrandini's tremendous talent as an improvising percussionist.
Pinheiro adds percussive dampened piano and, suddenly, the trio is in glorious spate before being augmented by Jacinto's wavering cello. Butcher is at the heart of several memorable moments, notably when his grasshopper chirping soprano saxophone is engaged in triple-pronged conversation by Fala Maram's trombone and Sei Miguel
's trumpet, then later in a bristling duet with Ferrandini. The piece concludes with the gentle pulsing of the essential triumvirate supplemented by an uplifting horn swell, which becomes a swirling rubato tutti to cap a remarkable performance.
Ferrandini's 28-minute "Mais Vale" provides a striking contrast to the other two works, drawing on his interest in electronics, composition and noise. The voice of electric bassist Miguel Abreu, a pronounced feature in a doomy atmospheric-laden dirge, will probably prove the litmus test for many listeners. After a terrific start comprising slowly modulating piano tolling, which brings to mind Morton Feldman, Ferrandini marshals his band at a controlled simmer. The slow procession unfolds for glinting vibraphone, flinty cello picking and a buzzy circular-breathed saxophone squawk. But even though he has considerable firepower at his disposal, in the form of the twin tenors of Amado and José Pedro Sousa
, he ensures that the needle never flickers into the red.
With such disparate centrifugal forces at play, there is no guarantee the band will continue as a unit but, while awaiting any further reunion, this winning set will more than suffice.
Corrente; Mais Vale; Ditirambo.
Sei Miguel: trumpet (3); Luis Vicente: trumpet (1); Fala Mariam: trombone (3); John Butcher: tenor, soprano saxophones (1, 3); Pedro Sousa: tenor saxophone (2); Rodrigo Amado: tenor saxophone (2); Nuno Torres: alto saxophone (1); Ernesto Rodrigues: viola (1); Ricardo Jacinto: cello (3); Miguel Mira: cello (2); Mattias Ståhl: vibraphone; Carlos Santos: electronics (1, 3); Miguel Abreu: voice, electric bass (2); David Maranha: percussion (2).