Hugo Costa/Raoul Van der Weide/Onno Govaert

April 5, 2023

Land Over Water
Creative Sources CS 743 CD

Liba Villavecchia Trio
Clean Feed CF 586 CD

The Attic
Love Ghosts
NoBusiness NBCD 159

Celebrating the acumen of Iberian improvisers – with some detours into the Netherlands – are these inspiring instances of saxophone/bass/drums cooperation. Catalan alto saxophonist Liba Villavecchia, bassist Alex Reviriego and drummer Vasco Trilla, who play with the likes of Agustí Fernández, are featured on Zaidín. Rotterdam-based Portuguese alto saxophonist Hugo Costa, who works with Philipp Ernsting, improvises alongside Dutch musicians on Land Over Water: veteran bassist Raoul Van der Weide, who has played with Burton Greene, and younger drummer Onno Govaert, who works with numerous bands. Govaert is also a member of The Attic featured on Love Ghosts with Portuguese, bassist Gonçalo Almeida, who lives in Rotterdam, and Lisbon-based tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, who has collaborated with numerous international players.

Dealing with the larger country first, the all-Spanish trio begins the premiere and title track with squeezed and yearning high saxophone pitches, lowing double bass slides and, once it turns into a swing sequence, rat-tat-tat drumming. Affiliated with Trilla’s sophisticated ruffs and backbeat and Reviriego’s rolling pulse, Villavecchia fragments the exposition into whines, cries, scoops and honks, before reconstructing it and recapping the head. This symmetry between freedom and form continues through the six other selections, with only certain motifs on a couple of tracks atmospheric and languorous.

The group also pays homage to the late US saxophonist Thomas Chapin with a reading of his “Bypass”. The closest the trio gets to traditional Free Jazz, press rolls, string pumps and reed honks inhabit the theme which evolves in double and triple coordination until slowing to adagio to emphasize pitch variations with several false endings. Otherwise the three rappel through Villavecchia originals with a mixture of power and passion. Encompassing hard overblowing, multiphonics deviations and arching doits from the saxophonist; arco bass string screeches and thickened pizzicato pumps; and drum strategies that arrange from unforced nerve beats to resounding rim shots, the program connects to the Jazz-Free Jazz continuum with honest distinctiveness.

Distinctiveness and decisiveness is what characterizes Govaert’s drumming on the other discs. Part of this long-time configuration with Amado and Almeida, his positioned drum thumps and rattles join with the bassist’s often unvarying pulsations to preserve the horizontal flow of the improvisations. Meanwhile Amado’s almost unabated intense perusing of every note, tone and technique that can be extracted from a saxophone means he bites into the improvisations with the skill of a Free Music Sonny Rollins without letting tone extraction overpower a logical approach. Roaming through the tracks, the saxophonist is almost unstoppable at any speed. His squeak, squalls, shatters and slides are as effective at largo or presto tempos, with variations of both – and those in between – frequently expressed on the same track. Altissimo runs and high-pitched spetrofluctuation figure into his sound unravelling as do nephritic flattement and all manner of tongue slaps and stops. Able to alter expression with ease, andante textures are often paramount to maintain cohesion. “Encounter” is the most extended variant of this strategy and an instance where Govaert’s carefully positioned ruffs and cymbal tinges contribute to the track’s moderated flow. Simultaneously the saxophonist uses scoops, split tones and smears for minute examine of the root and extensions of multiple tones. As the piece evolves to features presto doit, squeals and affiliated air reflux, it’s the drummer’s unyielding beat, coupled with Almeida’s steady pumping which preserve a broken-octave linear balance.

The drummer has some space for short solos of rattles, pops and other percussion coloration on Love Ghosts. But he gets more room on Land Over Water starting with the introductory “Live At Noorse Kerk”.  Initially unaccompanied, as he outputs moderato flutters, Costa is then paced by Van der Weide squeezing plastic toys until a hearty drum rattle and cymbal cracks sets off the exposition followed by additional small percussion dings and pings. As the drummer introduces more patterns and paradiddles, Costa’s initial diminished reed tones harden into honks and split tones urged on by Govaert’s press rolls until sax timbres finally turn to shrill echoes. Joined by a walking bass line, cymbal crackles and drum plops the three reprise horizontal patterns. Van der Weide gets a chance to demonstrate why he’s been a valued part of many bands during his solo on the title track, creating a mellow exposition by combining clenched sul tasto pops with cutting arco rubs. Call-and-response press rolls add to the cumulative ostinato. However it’s Govaert’s collection of clatter cymbals and drum ruffs and rumbles that again prevents extended saxophone techniques from letting “Wortel Schieten” run off into cacophony. Like his compatriot Amado, Costa takes time to break apart nearly every tone from its root to its extensions with the backing of percussion rumbles and string pops. Shrilling and scooping intense note-peeling pumps plus tongue slurs, stops and bites, these combine for overblowing or shrink to atom size for intense aural examination. Eventually these slides and slurs meeting double bass thumps and drum backbeats to move logically forward to a satisfactory ending.

Those who think the Iberian countries reached the height their influence in the 15th and 16th centuries should turn from thinking about political clout to the notable creative music being made by bands like these.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Zaidín: 1. Zaidin 2. La Voz Grave Y Los Ojos Negros 3. Nostalguíya (For Andrei Tarkovsky) 4. Nus 5. Convolvulus Cneorum 6. Bypass 7. La Coromina

Personnel: Zaidín: Liba Villavecchia (alto saxophone); Alex Reviriego (bass) and Vasco Trilla (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Love: 1. New Tone 2. Encounter 3. Love Ghosts 4. Outer Fields

Personnel: Love: Rodrigo Amado (tenor saxophone); Gonçalo Almeida (bass) and Onno Govaert (drums)

Track Listing: Land: 1. Live At Noorse Kerk 2. Burning Toes 3. Wortel Schieten 4. Land Over Water

Personnel: Land: Hugo Costa (alto saxophone); Raoul Van der Weide (bass and percussion) and Onno Govaert (drums)