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Mario Franco: This Life

Phil DiPietro By

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Sometimes a disc comes from out of left field that's so good, it makes you drop not only everything you're listening to, but a few other things you shouldn't. Wherever these records come from, you want to go there—and they just take you.

Such is the case with this release from Mário Franco, a forty-something bassist/leader from Portugal. It's uncanny that last year, another unheard-of bassist's date from the Portuguese Tone of a Pitch imprint accomplished the same. Similarly, this music is not particularly built around the skills of the leader as a virtuoso player, nor does it display any overt musical signs of geographical origin.

From the first wah-enhanced inhalation of "This Life," journeying to the pristine drum-n-bass exhortations of the perfect-take "Eterno Imperfeito" ("Imperfect Tense"), to the closing andante tarantella of "Web Woman," a consummate aesthetic rearranges and recalibrates, in real time, the interjection of modern color in small-group composition and arranging.

To posit that the presence of a player of Dave Binney's stature and flat-out technical skill is well-nigh inconsequential in terms of the overall vibe—and in turn, success—of this project gives an indication of just how momentous a trip Franco takes us on here. But Binney's ensemble playing is faultless and his ravenous contributions as arch-soloist on "This Life," "Chegada" and "Backstage Home" further propel him toward altoist of the year status, during one he's engorged with accomplishment.

Speaking of accomplishment, Binney is not the session's MVP, nor is the formidable American organ stylist-of-the-moment Jesse Chandler; that honor goes to the thirty-year-old guitarist and label founder Andre Fernandes, who's simply everywhere in the mix, all of it compellingly ear-grabbing. His is the first solo on the record, an attack-less interlacement, half then double-timed, nonchalantly yet hyper-attentively over the barlines. This sound is modern execution and tone, stripped of jazz cliche, yet belongs here the most. "Heranca" ("Inheritance") features his purposeful phrase fragmentation evolving into linear statements, spiced by the trademark use of pitch-bended intervals achieved by use of a harmonizer pedal. I've heard this attempted before by a few fearless jazzers, but nobody "plays" the pedal as adeptly as Fernandes.

Above all, this recording is a showcase for Franco's concept, unabashed in its incorporation of modern rock flavor into pure, unadulterated elegance and beauty. "Tentativa" ("Attempt") is his smashingly successful attempt at combining electric keyboard-influenced space rock with acoustic instrumentation, bridged to the future by a loping melody phrased by Fernandes, who paranormally recalls rock's greatest departed acid experimentalist. This track is a microcosm of everything jamband music could be, but so often is not.

"Eterno Imperfeito" might confirm a listener's intuition that Franco should enjoy success as a composer of music for dance companies, which he already does for no less than the Spanish National Ballet. This one flows and spins in ways not allowed in that world, to the benefit and enchantment of all of us fortunate enough to dance along in Franco's compositional and stylistic embrace.

Track Listing: This Life; Herança; Errante; Tentativa; Eterno Imperfeito; Backstage Home; Web Woman; Chegada; Web Woman (reprise).

Personnel: Mário Franco: bass; David Binney: alto saxophone (1,6-8); Jesse Chandler: organ, piano, melodica; André Fernandes: guitar; João Gomes: Rhodes, sampler; João Lencastre: drums.

Title: This Life | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Tone of a Pitch Music

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