Clean Feed CF 004

When it comes to a jazz map of Europe, Portugal is in the same position as the Americans were on those pre-Columbus maps of the world: non existent. Sure, well-traveled musicians bring back reports of jazz clubs and festivals taking place there and the odd jazzer is known to speak Portguese. But for most fans the country’s former colony, Brazil, where Portguese too is the lingua franca, has more resonance than the elonagted North Atlantic nation.

FILACTERA may cause the cartographers of improvised music to redraft their charts however. Fittingly, it too is design-based. The album is made up of 10 original tunes honoring different comic book heroes or artists, all written by and featuring Lisbon-based guitarist Mário Delgado. With the powerful back up of two horns, bass and drums, this choice recital not only exhibits sophisticated rhythmic swing, but contains the same sort of modernistic touches that you’d expect from North American improvisers.

Perhaps a byproduct of globalism, the guitarist and his crew are a pretty polygot lot as it is. Delgado has not only played with many local and visiting jazzers, but has backed up Portuguese pop stars, and works extensively with his own trio. Bassist Carlos Barretto admits to being influenced by fado and rock as well as jazz, and has a trio as well, in which Delgado holds down the guitar spot. Meanwhile drummer Alexandre Frazão has played in a popular acid-jazz band. Polish-born soprano and tenor saxist Andrzej Olejniczak was a well-known jazz player in the Eastern block, and who has divided his time between teaching and playing since his move to Spain in the early 1980s. A couple of years after that, Danish-born trombonist Claus Nymark moved to Portugal. Not only does he now lead and arrange for TV show bands and his own big jazz group, but he’s part of a popular local trad ensemble, the Dixie Gang.

You can tell that Nymark knows the gutbucket tradition on tunes as different as “Gatos e Corvos (Fritz the Cat)” and the two versions of “I’m A Poor Lonesome Cowboy”. Bluesy and muted most of the time with some Arabic grit in his creations — perhaps blown over from Morocco — he often comes across as a blend of Jack Teagarden and the Tower of Power horn section.

Olejniczak also acquits himself well, churning out some hard-bodied tenor solos on tunes like “Sete Bolas de Cristal”. While powerful they won’t be confused with the work of R&B bar walkers, but also don’t have much in common with the creators of mazurkas or fado. Proficient in blending his lines with those of Nymark for maximum unity, his one soprano sax outing droops too close to the New Age, however.

Except for what seems to be an overdubbed cello-like solo on “Marcha das Múmias Loucas/Gelati Blues” Barretto pretty much resticts himself to timekeeping. Meanwhile Frazão characterizes what’s best and worst about his playing on the funk-influenced, nearly 12 minute “Gatos …”. Spurred on by deep dish trombone blats that almost sound as if they’re coming from a tuba, at first the drummer turns out a perfect Crescent City Second Line beat on that tune, but later loses himself in a too showy, too long and too expected mainstream drum solo.

Here, as elsewhere Delgado blends blues, rock and country-influenced motifs for a distinctive performance. But you sort of wonder why his emphasis seems to be on roots Americana, when the fado and Arab influence could have been turned into Iberian blues. Then again, from the evidence here, those blues would be pretty uptown. On “Blues dos Freak Brothers”, for instance, his solos come across as pretty light-toned, rather like a button down B.B. King in his present day, avucular style. Any funk present is courtesy of the saxophonist and trombonist who toss ideas back and forth at the back end of the tune before settling into some swinging counterpoint.

In pure jazz guitar mode, as on “A Tensão U=RI”, Delgado appears to prefer simple, unadorned picking, sort of like an updated version of what the late Belgium guitarist René Thomas created. Confident in holding onto the beat from his trio gigs, he stays by the side trading fours with Frazão, leaving the faster bebop runs to Nyman.

Notwithstanding his name on the package, Delgado obviously doesn’t hog all the solos either, at least except for “A Mulher Armadilha”. But during that tune’s almost 3½ minutes, the guitarist uses overdubbing and other studio tricks to come up with the sounds of whistling, electronica-style whistles, crashing percussion and ascending effects that color his reading of the melody. Think of it as coming from a many armed robot musician performing cool 1950s nightclub ditties in outer space and it makes more sense.

Like the 16th and 17th cartographers who had to redraw their world map after European explorers — many of them Portuguese — discovered new continents, Delgado and company are expanding the world of improvisation past its limited geographic boundries. This disc should make everyone take notice.

But now he and other local musicians must work on distinctive styles to properly define their music in the global jazz firmament.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. I’m A Poor Lonesome Cowboy 2. Armadilha Diabólica 3. Sete Bolas de Cristal 4. Corto Maltese 5. Gatos e Corvos (Fritz the Cat) 6. Blues dos Freak Brothers 7. A Mulher Armadilha 8. Marcha das Múmias Loucas/Gelati Blues 9. A Tensão U=RI 10. I’m A Poor Lonesome Cowboy (reprise)

Personnel: Claus Nymark (trombone); Andrzej Olejniczak (soprano and tenor saxophones); Mário Delgado (guitar); Carlos Barretto (bass); Alexandre Frazão (drums)