Luís Lopes’ Humanization Quartet

Live In Madison
Ayler Records aylcd-134

Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio + Jeb Bishop

The Flame Alphabet

NotTwo MW 896-2

Two hard and heady sessions show off the toughness and adaptability of Portuguese improvisers – especially tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado present on both CDs; and guitarist Luís Lopes featured on one. At the same time while both disks were recorded only six weeks apart, and are equally strikingly brawny, each provides an individual definition of go-for-broke improvisation.

Recorded in a Lisbon studio, The Flame Alphabet consist of four slices of Free Improv, which in this case unites the members of the saxophonist’s usual trio – cellist Miguel Mira and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini – with visiting American trombonist Jeb Bishop. An amalgam of brawny Free Improv and air-rending Shred Rock, Live In Madison was recorded at a club in Madison, Wisc. during an American tour by Lopes and Amado plus a rhythm section from Dallas: brothers Aaron González on bass and Stefan González on drums.

Both formations are long-standing. The Motion Trio is about a decade old and has played with guests such as Lopes and saxophonist Joe McPhee. Lopes has recorded in trios with the likes of German drummer Christian Lillinger and American bassist Adam Lane, and adds Amado in variants of his Humanization quartet. Meanwhile the saxophonist has toured with the González brothers in a quartet headed by their father, trumpeter Dennis González.

Flawlessly adding his voice, which combines JJ Johnson’s speed and Roswell Rudd’s emotionalism, to the long-established group, Bishop is metaphorically the perfectly brewed espresso which complements the pastel de nata which is the trio. Making sure the confection doesn’t become too custardy or too tart (sic), the trombonist’s matter-of-fact swing provides the stabilizing ingredient needed if, for instance, the saxophonist’s intervallic and irregular vibrations hone in on the unappetizing screech mode. At the same time he and Amado can switch roles effortlessly, providing a sliding obbligato that provides the best recipe for improvisation. Other times both horn men play in perfect counterpoint; without ever having to resort to unison lines

Diffident to the point of inaudibility, Mira still steps forward from time-to-time for a pinpointed double-bass-like pluck. Ferrandini may also specialize in ruggedly pushing the beat, but of necessity he withdraws behind Bishop’s furry slide tones to add some romanticism to free form.

The most expansive instance of how the four interact is on the nearly 14-minute “Into The Valley”. With the drum work understated enough to suggest Ferrandini is exposing the textures from a collection of metal sculpture, Bishop’s bare-bone vibrations and slides are mostly in the exuberant Rudd mode. Meanwhile Amado’s collection of atonal cries intensifies the compositional tension with phrases that sound as if they could come from either of Rudd’s long-time associates: tenor saxophonist Shepp, or alto saxophonist John Tchicai. Eventually the slurps and pumps upsurge to an almost-visible crescendo of dense animation, finally subsiding into a coda where the still-engaged horns trade harshness for zealous passion.

There’s an ample supply of harshness and zealousness on the other, live CD. The concentrated power surge from the rhythm section, coupled with the lick distorting lead-guitar work encourages the saxophonist to play up the cruder side of his improvisations. Rugged honks and tongue gymnastics replace Amado’s more cerebral interpretations, investing the session with a punk-like callousness.

Crudeness and callousness pump up the excitement level along with the volume; and while none of the six tracks can be said to swing, they certainly gallop fiercely. Fully fitting the moment, although writing duties are divided and the majority of tunes come from the guitarist compositions by Amada and Aaron González are hewn from the same rock …or Rock.

Lopes’ pieces such as “Jungle Gymnastics” and “Long March For Frida Kahlo” contain enough raucous power that electricity could have been switched off throughout Madison that night, More tactfully, the guitarist’s staccato story-telling licks on the latter and the parallel string pushes and reed tongue inflection on the former confirm that complex ideas are just beneath the showy surface.

As a reversal from Rock music conventions, it’s the bassist and drummer who maintain the moderato pace on the latte piece; and it’s Stefan González’s comprehensive drum break which brings the narrative back to its melodic head on the latter tune. Furthermore, his brother’s “Dehumanization Blues” offers the most all-embracing definition of this music on the disc. Maintaining equilibrium among different tropes, the piece manages to balance a linear theme that pushes forward like a police dogs straining at the leash with varied solo responses. Besides the saxophonist’s improvisations that encompass wild and nasty tongue stops and slurs, are intimations of hard-boiled detective theme music. Again the guitarist and reedist combine staccato dissonance to stimulate the excitement level. Concluding with blistering ripostes at the zenith of each horn man’s respective range, it’s up to the drummer to moderate the attack into a satisfying, all encompassing conclusion.

Overall with these discs Amado confirms his skill as both reed-biting punk jazzer and spiky, more cerebral improviser. Personal preferences will determine which sort of Portuguese confection the listener prefers.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Flame: 1. Burning Mountain 2. The Flame Alphabet 3. First Light 4. Into The Valley 5. The Healing.

Personnel: Flame: Jeb Bishop (trombone); Rodrigo Amado (tenor saxophone); Miguel Mira (cello) and Gabriel Ferrandini (drums)

Track Listing: Madison: 1. Bush Baby 2. Jungle Gymnastics 3. Long March For Frida Kahlo 4. Big Love 5. Two Girls 6. Dehumanization Blues

Personnel: Madison: Rodrigo Amado (tenor saxophone); Luís Lopes (guitar); Aaron González (bass) and Stefan González (drums)