Zingaro/Mitzlaff/Vegas/Rosso Quartet

Day One
JACC Records 024

Like a tempered beam used by builders to add strength and character to a new structure, so does veteran violinist Carlos Zingaro utilize the techniques he’s absorbed over 40 years of freer playing to shore up the eight improvisations that make up Day One. The very opposite of Donald Trump-like overbearing in his contributions, the violinist succeeds in adding ballast and balance to the CD, whose other participants are fellow Portuguese of a more recent vintage.

Due to his extensive collaborations with other Europeans such as bassist Joëlle Léandre and saxophonist Daunik Lazro, for many years Zingaro personified Free Music for many beyond his small country’s borders. But especially in the 21st century, Lisbon has in some ways taken on the appearance of a high-tech job fair, as more local players begin searching out expanded auditory challenges. Those attributes could define Zingaro’s associates. Bassist Alvaro Rosso works in many local ensembles, as does self-taught clarinetist João Pedro Viegas. Cellist Ulrich Mitzlaff has also worked with iconoclastic flutist Carlos Bechegas.

Extending the root specifications for improvising string ensembles planted by Zingaro and others in previous decades, this quartet reaches its full flowering by emphasizing harmonic and contrapuntal synergy. At the same time like plant food especially constituted to help a blossom thrive, Viegas’ interjections from clarinet, bass clarinet and clarinet mouthpiece give the tracks on Day One an unusually dexterous shape. While most emphasize the spiccato, gashing, augmented and distorted qualities of woodwinds and strings, the most descriptive also overlays characteristic themes.

For instance, “Cells and Patterns” despite its title, moves past organology to set up distinctive improvisational strategies. Playing off the so-called classical romantic tradition and vigorous timbre-stabs that exemplify further experimentation, below-the-bridge vibrations from the string players are resolved as a duet between impressionistic violin lines and steadfast walking bass. Elsewhere studied string harmonies are pierced by spiky clarinet trills that leap from aviary to elephant expression during a glissando. A final consolidation salutes both traditions and a little more. With pitches, timbres and spectrum approached with invention and impulse, sequences are tightened and weakened according to plan and chance. Harmonized warmth and discordant chill each get its due. The key is how reed snorts, string pressure and undulating asides are eventually knitted into a stylish musical garment.

Other instances of this appear on “Little Grey Men”, and the following “Last Smudge of Orange”, which could be the mini-Me of the previous tune. Perhaps designed to scare off the organizational types who are grey in dress and thought, the former track features string lines crossing and re-crossing one another, with a woodwind ostinato serving as the mucilage. What sounds like thumps from loosened bass string plus werewolf cry-like reed screeches slows down the traverse stand off so that it becomes a distinctive descending melody. More of the same, the resolution of “Last Smudge of Orange” is a dancing jig from the fiddler that brings elated feelings as it speeds to the conclusion.

Like eager politicos and old pols in a representative parliament, the four here combine for the best possible outcomes. It would appear that Day One calls for a Day Two.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. This Ordeal of Yours 2. Cells and Patterns 3. Genau 4. Ship of Fools 5. Who's There? 6. Little Grey Men 7. Last Smudge of Orange 8. Neverwhere

Personnel: João Pedro Viegas (bass clarinet, clarinet and clarinet mouthpiece); Carlos Zingaro (violin); Ulrich Mitzlaff (cello) and Alvaro Rosso (bass)