RODRIGO AMADO/CARLOS ZÍNGARO/KEN FILIANO

The Space Between
Clean Feed CF 015CD

Unwieldy to the extreme in the wrong hands, the baritone saxophone is more likely to be found anchoring a big band reed section than improvising in a small combo. Even less common is its participation in experimental sessions.

Yet it was Portuguese bari-man Rodrigo Amado, leader of the Lisbon Improvisation Players collective who organized this memorable exercise in real-time composition. Of course, he did bring along his alto saxophone for some tonal variety and in terms of musical insurance, his associates are two of the most accomplished practitioners of the style. American bassist Ken Filiano, whose associations include a longtime partnership with multi-reedist Vinny Golia, blends elements of jazz, improv and New music in his playing. While classically trained Portuguese violin master Carlos Zíngaro has played and recorded with other top-flight stylists ranging from British saxophonist Evan Parker to French bassist Joëlle Léandre.

That Amado, whose facility allows him to impel mellow legerdemain from his instrument of choice, holds his own in this fast company - - and elsewhere with the likes of trombonist Steve Swell and drummer Lou Grassi — is tribute enough to his talents.

Someone who is able to express Gerry Mulligan’s mellowness in a more advanced context, Amado’s tone on the big horn can often be described as temperate. Even on a piece like “Horn, Strings & Sound”, where he can’t resists the odd billowing honk, his pacific retort is nothing like the scurrying of excited field mice pitches which the strings produce.

In contrast, power fields such as “In We Walked Out” consolidate his trumpeting tones, constant intensity vibratos, reed biting, and slurred repeated note patterns into a noise symphony worthy of the 1960s New Thing. The bassist contributes swelling spiccato bow strokes, and by the end, all eight strings are sawing away as the saxman heads for stratospheric territory.

The violinist’s work can range from portamento sweeps that are almost clichéd in their classical timbres, to grating spirited runs that have a lot more in common with avant fiddler Billy Bang than Jascha Heifetz. On alto saxophone, Amado follows a similar pattern, often proffering a sweet tone that sounds as if he’s quoting a half-remembered standard. Conversely, on pieces like “Around the House”, his straightforward tone is studded with the sort of sounds that only come from overblowing and end with shrill honks. Filiano moves up and down his strings, sometimes hitting all four strings with his bow, while Zíngaro’s fizzy decorations create an elevated continuum. A veteran of many bands with Léandre, the fiddler isn’t fazed by bass virtuosity in any musical field.

Even on “Shadow Lines”, the longest track, Zíngaro is able to sound out a dancing airy solo that never gets scratchy even when he’s operating at an elevation way above the violin’s usual modulations. Later his double-stopping suggests speedy Bluegrass fiddling, with his output met by bass thumps and tugs from Filiano that clearly resonate individual notes. Above all this Amado performs with a wide vibrato to give himself added heft and the ability to glide over the swelling arco strings.

With his unique alto tone that sometimes sputters like comb-and-tissue paper buzzes and his part-legit smooth, part strained overblown sax tone, Amado proves on this CD that he’s a reed player whose name should be noted internationally.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Nothing/New Thing 2. The Space Between 3. Meters 4. Around the House 5. Off Breaker 6. Tripplets 7. Shadow Lines 8. Horn, Strings & Sound 9. In We Walked Out

Personnel: Rodrigo Amado (alto and baritone saxophones); Carlos Zíngaro (violin); Ken Filiano (bass)