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Album Review

Rodrigo Amado Northern Liberties: We Are Electric


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Rodrigo Amado Northern Liberties: We Are Electric
By all accounts, 2021 was a very good year for Rodrigo Amado. One of the leading lights of the Portuguese avant-garde, the indefatigable tenor saxophonist first released The Field (NoBusiness), featuring his Motion Trio (with cellist Miguel Mira and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini) alongside guest pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, and Let the Free Be Men (Trost), with his now-frequent collaborators saxophonist Joe McPhee, bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Chris Corsano. But if these two albums come to overshadow We Are Electric, released at the tail end of the year, that would be unfortunate, as it is another superb entry in Amado's prodigious catalog.

Amado has new partners here, and they are all fixtures on the Norwegian free scene. Bassist Jon Rune Strøm, drummer Gard Nilssen and trumpeter Thomas Johansson can play equally well in composed and free contexts, and while only the latter is needed here, they all improvise with an intuitive sense of purpose and structure, which renders them ideal collaborators with Amado, who is never out of control in even his freest moments. But that is not to say that there are not plenty of fireworks on this tumultuous live recording captured at the ZDB club in Lisbon in 2017.

The opener, "Spark," is truly a burner, with ferocity in abundance from the very start. Nilssen and Strøm provide a steady maelstrom underneath Johansson and Amado, the two developing and discarding ideas left and right. Johansson in particular is a force of nature, with seemingly limitless stamina during the first few minutes. There are moments of respite over the course of the 17-minute performance, such as a brief stretch in which Nilssen and Strøm keep things churning in a steady groove while the horns lay out; but the true potency of the music emerges when all four musicians are pouring it on, with Johansson and Amado somehow able to follow each other's moves even at their fullest intensity.

Although not as immediately powerful, the other pieces bring subtler nuances to the fore which are just as engaging. "Ignition" and "Activity" clock in at around 12 minutes each, and they open up other improvisational gambits. Strøm's probing arco leads off "Ignition" before the other three join in, tentatively at first, as Amado locates a simple repeated phrase to start an animated conversation with Johansson which evolves patiently, until it finds its culmination in another frenzied burst of energy. And "Activity" is perhaps even more subdued, with Amado at his most lyrical, with some lovely arco contributions from Strøm to complement Johansson's gentle musings. Their restraint here is quite compelling, the calm before the storm which is eventually to come, this time as Amado teases out some bluesy licks and Nilssen develops another impassioned groove as the band soars ever higher. The album's denouement is the five-minute "Response," although it is almost an afterthought in light of the first-rate, expansive exchanges that have preceded it.

As Amado continues to expand his ever-growing list of musical partners, he gains yet more opportunities to display his imaginative range and improvisational prowess. This Portugal-meets-Norway encounter is clearly a winner and, hopefully, one to be repeated in the future.

Track Listing

Spark; Ignition; Activity; Response.


Rodrigo Amado: saxophone; Thomas Johansson: trumpet; Jon Rune Strøm: bass, acoustic; Gard Nilssen: drums.

Album information

Title: We Are Electric | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Not Two Records

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