A Jazzar No Zeca: A Música de José Afonso
Clean Feed 028 CD

Reconfiguration of the songs of legendary Portuguese singer/song writer José Afonso (1929-1987) into jazz, this jubilant CD demonstrates how with proper forethought any musical material can be grist for exceptional improvisation.

Indeed with A JAZZAR NO ZECA, bassist Ze Eduardo and his associates – tenor saxophonist Jesus Santandreu and drummer Bruno Pedroso – have created a tone poem from Afonso’s works. The session amplifies the lyrics printed on the booklet sleeve. Scheduled around the 25th anniversary of Portugal’s bloodless change from dictatorship to democracy in 1974, the trio’s work expanded from other musical celebrations of the Carnation Revolution to honor one of its most important figures.

For Americans, the parallel to Afonso would be if Bob Dylan and Abbie Hoffman were the same person. Someone who early on spoke out against and sang about the dictatorial regime, Afonso was arrested and questioned several times by the political police. Appropriately enough the signal for insurgents to overthrow the government on April 25, 1974 was when the national radio broadcast “Grândola Vila Morena”, one of Afonso’s more radical songs. When some insurgents in Lisbon, put carnations in the cannons of their guns; the name Carnation Revolution took hold.

An architecture student and activist in 1974, Eduardo later became a session musician, backing some of the most famous Portuguese performers including Afonso. An interregnum in Barcelona from 1982 to 1995 found him working with international jazzers like American saxist Steve Lacy and Catalan pianist Tete Montoliu. Back in Portugal, he teaches as well as tours with this trio. Pedroso has worked in the bands of bassist Carlos Barrette and with saxophonist Paulo Curado; while Santandreu, a Berklee college grad, has worked with bassist Nelson Cascais and recorded with the Latin Ensemble.

The trio’s dramatic reading of the famous “Grândola Vila Morena” features split- tone trills from the saxophonist, resonating bass lines and a militaristic undercurrent from he drummer. After the beat is vocally counted out the song is deconstructed and given a gigue-like beat, as Santandreu darts around the steady bass and drum line with overblown sound shards, foghorn growls and flattement. Following a stentorian bass solo that brings out nervous laughter from one of the musicians, the saxman introduces harsh slurred tones that seesaw over the piece, often becoming deeper pitched and laterally dispensed with tongue slaps as he moves down the scale. Eventually the disconnected pattern rights itself as Pedroso rattles accompaniment.

Other tunes get different treatments. “Traz Outro Amigo Também”, for instance becomes an agitato hard bop line built on speedy press rolls and cymbal action plus hocketing sax spills. “O Que Fez Falta”, gets a lilting Latinesque beat from Eduardo’s spiccato bass tone midway between sounds of (Portuguese-speaking) Brazil and the Caribbean.

These sounds of the New World get further exposure with “Canto Moço”, a tune with a reggae-like beat, allowing the bassist and drummer to come on like Portuguese Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. Here Eduardo limits his theme variations to his axe’s lowest strings and Pedroso provides plenty of bass drum foot power and cymbal back beat. Santandreu’s spetrofluctuation is such that he could be playing an EWI, and the tune is taken out with “Pop Goes the Weasel” digressions.

A similar vamp ends “Cantar Alentejano”, which despite that is the piece closest to Free Jazz. Including Jimmy Garrison-like double stopping from Eduardo, stentorian Tranesque tonguing from Santandreu and cymbal patterning from Pedroso, the stop-time piece slides from andante to allegro. A saxophone showcase, it features the reedist outputting screaming multiphonics, honks, snorts and sudden bursts of speed at different times.

Undoubtedly a project like this could have greater resonance for Portuguese people or those who speak the language. But the improvisational standard is so high that the CD can be relished by any jazz fan.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Era de Noite e Levaram 2. Grândola Vila Morena 3. Canto Moço 4. O Que Fez Falta 5. Coro da Primavera 6. Traz Outro Amigo Também 7. Cantar Alentejano 8. Escandinávia-Bar 9. Clean Free

Personnel: Jesus Santandreu (tenor saxophone); Ze Eduardo (bass); Bruno Pedroso (drums)