Agustí Fernández Liquid Trio

Marianne
Vector VSO 18

Figuratively carrying the Catalan flag as effectively as if he was doing so in the Olympics, pianist Agustí Fernández has become the most recognized improviser from that autonomous region within Spain, plus arguable the county’s best-known Jazz musician. But that doesn’t means he’s a man alone. While for various reasons – most of them spelled Franco – Spain doesn’t have a long Jazz history; it has been catching up in recent decades. The second CD by this aggregation, Marianne pairs the pianist with two other Catalan improvisers for a rousing exercise in free-form music. Tenor saxophonist Albert Cirera now lives in Lisbon where he leads his own groups and plays with the likes of bassist Hernani Faustino and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini. Drummer Ramon Prats works with locals as well as international visitors including saxophonists Mats Gustafsson and Seamus Blake.

Despite the imbalance that exists between local verses international fame, the playing is perfectly balanced, rather than an example of a famous soloist playing with associates. If anything Cirera, improvising with a more common front-line instrument, arguably gets more solo space than Fernández. Whether he’s reed growling, tongue slapping or distantly harmonizing, the others provide the appropriate response to Cirera’s work as if they’re the word processing keys activated by finger pressure. The final “Está Arriba, En La Galería, Escuchando A Los Mirlos” is like a old time jalopy with whiny reed rattles seconded by cranked piano jumps and exhaust-like blow-outs from the bass drum. In contrast a track such as “Le Bois De La Saudraie” depends for its distinctive architecture from the contrast between Fernández’s Morse-Code-like keyboard fits and starts and the desolate Prairie-like vibrations from Cirera. At other times, like a curious belt decorated with both archaic and contemporary designs, Prats’ rumbling backbeat and the saxophonist’s circular breathing meet on “O Disco Amarelo Iluminou-Se” in a sequence reminiscent of a strategy from the Schlippenbach trio, whose saxophonist – Evan Parker – has frequently collaborated with Fernández.

“Zugegeben” the CD’s 19-minute centrepiece integrates these elements into a narrative that’s also a polyphonic showcase. The track leapfrogs from an exposition that gets its power from the contradictions among animal-like yelps from the reedist and staccato phrasing from the keyboardist, both muted by calming rattles and reflective cymbal echoes. Before the piece solidifies into a serene finale that smoothes out earlier saxophone growls and piano chording so rugged it could have powered an engine, each trio member expresses himself distinctively. Exchanging roles like the lead character’s good-girl-to-bad-bad transformation in the film Grease, Cirera tries out the low-key burbles with an oboe-like tone; Prats’ alternating clatter and claps suggest a percussion duo; while Fernández’s laid-back stretched and plucked inner piano strings give way to passages that are both rhythmic and atonal as if Cecil Taylor was possessed by the spirit of James P. Johnson, or perhaps vice versa.

Taken as a whole, Marianne confirms Fernández’s multi-pronged skills, gives more exposure to other Catalan improvisers, and is an appropriate salute to its namesake, a long-time stalwart on the Barcelona avant-garde scene.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Night Is Generally My Time For Walking 2. Le Bois De La Saudraie 3. Zugegeben 4. La Heroica Ciudad Dormía La Siesta 5. O Disco Amarelo Iluminou-Se 6. I Was Born In The City Of Bombay 7. Está Arriba, En La Galería, Escuchando A Los Mirlos

Personnel: Albert Cirera (tenor saxophone); Agustí Fernández (piano) and Ramon Prats (drums)