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Those from the Norte: pLoo at Café Casa da Música

Arian Bagheri Pour Fallah By

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[T]he very arrangement of the region, resulting in persisting tension and discontinuity [...] helps furnish and further characterize radical Norte jazz. —Arian Bagheri Pour Fallah
Jazz and its many conformations rarely denote the multiplicity of sub-genres as such. Paulo Alexandre Pereira da Costa's pLoo attests this sharply enough to warrant its listeners a view entire and aggregate, and in the same extent, select and irregular, of jazz and its current praxis in Northern Portugal. The quintet, made up of wind and string players led by Costa on drums, is capable of derailing tableaus so obscurely, as in "Bêbado das onze" and "Pong," that tracing them can be queried time and again. It is not merely that pLoo does not sound like anything else. It is specifically that it shares pedestal with many, not readably belonging in any. Likewise, with heterogeneity comes tension. This is stylistically apparent when planes of reference are traversed ad lib, and in polystylist mode of composition in specific, Zorn being an attractive example. And experientially, when more openly constructed jazz collectives begin to incorporate at times discreetly, as is the case with pLoo, compositional effigies of assorted lineage. A battleground on the one hand, and a churchyard on the other, tension persists in both.

Ethnographically, one may too wonder if said spatial peripheries enclosing composition and arrangements of jazz, a highly reciprocal music, extend to land, its arrangements and the creative transactions of its inhabitants, namely the Norte and the way in which it interfaces Greater Portugal. Here what is imploringly described as "an eclectic place where jazz, world music, improvised music and contemporary music could coexist" at ploo.pt must be read freely of pLoo and formal idealism as frame of reference. The idealism is oxymoronic but only insofar as music journalism calls for oxymorons and rhetoric in the main. Indeed, what is world music but the free assimilation of whatever raw material at one's disposal in a given time, by the occupants of the coincident space. That which it is not is any given idiom and system of music, recycled teleologically, in popular or academic setting, and with mere reference to once-pertinent rituals and theses. If anything, the term alludes rather strongly to the negation of idioms often taken as ethnic and not its embrace, in that it posits one (world) in place of the many, whereas jazz is a testament to the free assimilation of all narratives that befit its experience.

World music and jazz are thus convertible modi. And pLoo, through their free use of both, practitioners of jazz, and in turn, world music. Theirs is not a Portuguese, or non-Portuguese music, for that matter—it is jazz. And a jazz brimming with tension, a sheer treat to witness and futile to share impressions of, only to debate its isness, in close relation to its most peculiar characteristic: tension. In tension there is surety, and in surety, distance, inevitability —friction. The task is to trace each of these layers to a very specific, individual outline of the region, and if necessary, human economy.

Having been notified of the event by pure accident, I share my astonishment with Costa, during our meeting after the performance. I inform him of my long-time acquaintance with Portuguese jazz and improvised music, of Ernesto Rodrigues, Clean Feed, among others, and of the strangeness of this complete lack of a prior encounter. It is worthwhile to mention neither of the five instrumentalists are newcomers to jazz and have been variously involved in a myriad of other projects. At this point, he unravels what may initially appear as simple music business politics, but what entails links to none other than the previously traced article of tension. His account is one of hindrance and paradox, the difficulties of establishing contact with Portuguese jazz labels, nearly all of which are located in the Lisboa region, a recurrent chapter. In fact, the Porta-Jazz Association, of which they currently are a member, began as a regional answer to the general need for institutional support. That it provides in name, and to an extent, practically, making releases and events happen, notwithstanding the passive function of an enabler marking simultaneously its limits, something that manifests itself in countless self-releases from members of the same association, with no visible difference in their reception.

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