Tuba Guitarra & Bateria
Clean Feed CF023CD

Jazz’s apocryphal birth in New Orleans resulted from the mixture of ex-slaves’ blues sensibility and the brass band tradition of Creoles of color. With the Crescent City a melting pot, we often forget that New Orleans had been under Spanish as well as French rule, and no less an authority than Jelly Roll Morton always talked about the “Spanish tinge” found in the evolving music.

Thus it should be no surprise that this exceptional set of improvisations comes from a minimalist trio of guitarist, tubaist and drummer, who as Portuguese share the Iberian Peninsula with Spain. You can certainly hear echoes of the rollicking brassy tradition from tubaist Sérgio Carolino and percussionist Alexandre Frazão.

At the same time the prosaically titled CD is notable because the three musicians aren’t revivalists but POMO adapters of an ongoing tradition. Tuba Guitarra & Bateria (TGB)’s repertoire includes Bud Powell’s “Un Poco Loco”, Thelonious Monk’s “Brilliant Corners”, Jorge Palma’s poppy “Só” and even Led Zeppelin’s raver “Black Dog”. Able to exhibit his jazz chops on the first two songs and others, TGB’s third member, plectrumist Mário Delgado, exhibits his versatility on the other two.

Freethinking inventiveness characterized the guitarist’s work on his own CD and one by bassist Carlos Barretto, and that bassman returned the favor by contributing “3.4.7”. A slinky tune that at first relies on the natural pensiveness of the tuba’s mid- range, it soon turns to pedal point continuum. On it Delgado veers from single note Swing echoes to exalted Hendrix-like strumming, heavy on the reverb.

His own “Pascoal Joins the Dark Forces” continues in this vein with a bouncy, cartoony melody based on stop time and repeated descending chords. Except for Delgado’s tremolo reverb, the drummer — on brushes — and tubaist could be playing at an old-time country dance.

“Black Dog” can also be heard as old-time folkloric music for Baby Boomers, but even here the three find a way to tweak the familiar melody. Delgado’s effects pedal is rotated for maximum distortion using wobbly phasers and flangers, and it’s Carolino who carries the theme. He then spits out enough wah-wahs so you’d think he too had a pedal set up, as the guitarist manipulates his strings making the timbres resemble those of an electric organ. All along, Frazão, who was born in Rio de Janerio, varies his backbeat with unexpected rhythms from his cowbell and wood block.

Elsewhere the tuba man’s a cappella intro to “Lilli’s Funk”, shows that someone born in Alcobaça can feel the funk as much anyone from the Crescent City. A double-tongued, rhythmic foot tapper, his puffs and whooshes produce additional percussion sounds to the brief intermezzo. Here and on the tune proper, his fluid valve manipulations are as supple as you would hear from a bass trombonist.

Rasping growls and top-of-the-horn smears characterize Carolino’s work on “Brilliant Corners”, which is taken at a more leisurely tempo than Monk preferred. Delgado first sprays polyrhythmic fills around the tubaist, then tries some ringing C&W-like finger picking to deconstruct the main melody. With a race between the snorting brass and reverberating strings to see who can complete his part first, the coda is a restating of the theme, done even quicker.

TUBA GUITARRA & BATERIAS does have one misfire though. “Só”, which probably has more resonance for locals than we hear internationally, is a sleepy change of pace that resembles one of those Nashville-style smooth ballads, especially since Delgado plays dobro on it.

Putting this one aside, this oddly constituted trio has produced a CD that’s cheerful and musically satisfying at the same time.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Pipa Baquígrafo 2. 3.4.7 3. Inérica# 4. Pascoal Joins the Dark Forces 5. Lilli’s Funk — Intro 6. Lilli’s Funk — Theme 7. Brilliant Corners 8. Só* 9. Un Poco Loco 10. Black Dog

Personnel: Sérgio Carolino (tuba); Mário Delgado (guitar and dobro*); Alexandre Frazão (drums and melodica#)