Paris Transatlantic review by Clifford Allen

Zé Eduardo Unit –  A Jazzar – Live in Capuchos (CF 155)
The trio of bassist-composer Zé Eduardo, drummer Bruno Pedroso and powerhouse tenorman Jesús Santandreu has been active on the Iberian scene for the better part of a decade, primarily as a vehicle for the leader’s arrangements of folk and popular song into open improvisational settings. Their Clean Feed debut, A Jazzar no Zeca (2002), was a setting of the anti-fascist songs of José Afonso; other recordings have focused on Portuguese cinema, and Live in Capuchos retains the cinematic tradition by including themes from cartoons The Simpsons and Noddy. I’ll confess a slight gag reflex was triggered by seeing Danny Elfman’s tune in the setlist, but it’s rendered barely recognizable across the track’s seven minutes, Santandreu digging into his Newk/Trane roots in a rollicking solo over a jolly, pliant bounce. There’s a shade of Rollins’ “I’m an Old Cowhand” here, and in fact the tongue-in-cheek trotting-out of a fairly insipid recent popular song is something Eduardo has in common with Rollins and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
“Grandola” opens with a weighty plod before bass and tenor soar in delicate interplay; Eduardo’s bass takes a more central role than on previous dates, exhibiting affection for high-pitched pizzicato strumming, effortlessly shifting from fluttering abstraction to supple, folksy lilt. Pedroso, a longtime fixture on the Lisbon scene and a highly in-demand drummer, dissects marches into stabbing freedom, yet carries a loose backbeat just as easily. Thirty-odd years ago, a player cobbling together mainstream and free-jazz tenor influences wouldn’t have been something particularly interesting, but somehow the honesty of Santandreu’s approach is refreshing – especially because he’s not a technical showman but a compellingly virile student of the music. His sand-blasted honks and blats in “Dartacão,” coupled with fleet fingering and wide leaps, are an exciting reminder of what solid modern-jazz tenor playing is all about. Eduardo coined the verb “jazzar” to define what his group does – to make jazz, make immediate the legacy of popular and folk song, translating even the hokiest numbers into personal artworks. Live in Capuchos is a fine example of the Zé Eduardo Unit at work.–

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