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Remember free-bop? While there's no hard and fast definition, the term was used to encompass jazz boasting a written head, often at rapid bebop tempo, which subsequently opened up harmonically and rhythmically, but without straying completely off the map. Think some of the freewheeling Blue Note discs of Sam Rivers and Andrew Hill or some of the roller coaster charts from reedman Anthony Braxton's classic quartet with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. As a descriptor it also fits the output of the Transatlantic grouping of trombonist Jeb Bishop and Portuguese saxophonist Rodrigo Amado's Motion Trio, but with a twist as the foursome dispense with anything other than purely extemporized themes.
In that respect The Flame Alphabet mirrors the quartet's debut outingBurning Live (Jazz Ao Centro, 2012)but in spite of being a studio session, manages to retain energy and drive of the concert situation, while at the same time avoiding spells of treading water while waiting for inspiration to hit. At the heart of the disc's success lies the quick-witted interplay between the horns as Amado and Bishop prove well-matched in their joint proclivity for spinning honeyed tales. Their lines intertwine but don't choke, such that even in the most heated moments their discourse retains a core of lyricism. In that they are aided by Miguel Mira's sprightly cello, played pizzicato almost throughout in the bass role and Gabriel Ferrandini's superlative drumming, full of air and ingenuity.
Marvellous examples of Ferrandini's tonal smarts come in the wonderful array of cymbal timbres incorporated into the interaction around the 5-minute mark on the opening "Burning Mountain," or his solo introduction to the title track, where he varies the emphasis on different parts of his kit to carefully modulate mood. That cut proceeds as a brace of duets, initially for drums/tenor and then trombone/cello. Amado's tenor jostles in fractious squawk for an enthralling exchange with the drummer. At just shy of 14 minutes, "Into The Valley" forms the longest piece, allowing space which is exploited to the max. Bishop's garrulous trombone drifts over a engaging backdrop of choppy percussion and textural cello commentary, but then works up to incendiary pitch as the horns expostulate twin molten streams over a throbbing rhythmic fusillade. After that cathartic episode, the ballad-like "The Healing" finds Amado's tenor cosseted by muted sweet nothings from Bishop in a tender finale to a disc that captivates with its blend of accomplished execution and responsive evolving narrative.
Track Listing: Burning Mountain; The Flame Alphabet; First Light; Into The Valley; The Healing.
Personnel: Rodrigo Amado: tenor saxophone; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Miguel Mira: cello; Gabriel Ferrandini: drums.