MAU: Utopia

Friedrich Kunzmann By

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The letters spelling out Utopia are obscured by clouds on the cover of the debut record by the Portuguese Trio MAU, confirming that the idea of a Utopia is exactly that, merely an idea, a fictional place where something reminiscent of perfect is attained. Double bassist Miguel Angelo is the leader of this group, and its first offering is named after the politically perfectly-balanced island the English philosopher Thomas More made up in the 16th century. Arguably, the most important concept within a utopian place, namely freedom, is what the three musicians try to embody in their creativity and seamless maneuvers from improvisation through composition and everything in between. Experimental electric guitar sweeps, careful cymbal brushes and firm bass lines construct open architectural soundscapes which seem easy to grasp in one moment and far from material in the next.

For a record with such an idealist title, the music sounds surprisingly menacing. But, as the red and black clouds on the cover suggest, the idea is only ever something that can be pursued, not achieved in a pure form. The flaring octave-effect manipulated guitar strokes and bumpy rhythmic foundation provided by drums and bass on the opener, "Distopia," confirm this threatening notion. Does the idea of a Utopia presuppose its opposite? The musicians elegantly move between the lines of darkness and light reflected in composition and improvisation. Appropriately titled, "Bipolar" demonstrates this aspect exactly. As a matter of fact, a correlation between titles and musical content is prevalent throughout the album—no names appear given on a whim. The trio rocks out for several measures spread over songs like "Bipolar," "Thomas vs More" and "Três Castas II -Touriga Nacional" but, for the largest part of the album, creates soft and mysterious atmospheres which are either framed in melancholic harmony or completely based on an improvisational pulse.

"Queda" sees Angelo using the bow for a more pronounced harmonic foundation, complemented by a beautifully performed guitar motif which is split in two by means of a delay effect. "Multiverso" and "Três Castas III -Arinto" are highlights on the record, with the latter being the sole exposition of something close to hopefulness and light-heartedness. The title track closes the album on a much quieter note than its antonym had opened it, though with a similarly irresolute ambiance— confirming that the only sure and perfect thing here is how three people can freely interact with each other in a musical way.

Track Listing

Distopia; Bipolar; Queda; Multiverso; Rafael Hitlodeu; Thomas VS More; Éden; Trés Castas I - Aragonez; Trés Castas II - Touriga Nacional; Trés Castas III - Arinto; Utopia.


Miguel Angelo: bass; Miguel Moreira: guitar; Mario Costa: drums.

Album information

Title: Utopia | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Carimbo Porta-jazz



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