Rodrigo Amado – Wire Quartet (CF 297)
Rodrigo Amado’s music is a letdown. Which is not to say that it is a disappointment. Quite the reverse. This is his most thrillingly realized and coherent recording to date. But the music’s determining trajectory is always downwards and deeper. Patterns of four, five, six descending tones in the opening sequence evoke nothing less than being slowly ratcheted down a mine-shaft, observing strata, minerals crystallizing, feeling the internal pressure build and the air thicken. When most of our laudatory paradigms for music involve elevation, ascension, transcendence, Amado takes us toward the core. Or maybe off shore, and then a deep dive. That opening piece is a veritable descent into the maelstrom. A quiet introduction on tenor and guitar (the highly impressive Manuel Mota) suggests a backstage encounter between Sonny Rollins and Jim Hall. It’s thoughtful, pleasingly discursive, but soon gives way to a fierier group attack which might unwarily be mistaken for by-the-yard Fire Music if it weren’t for the highly disciplined way Amado organizes the group round those bunched saxophone tones and terse phrasing.
Then when one is almost ready to shout despairingly with Poe’s narrator and prepare for a last plunge into the whirlpool, it pulls up quietly on damped cymbal tones (Gabriel Ferrandini) that gradually evolve a fascinating dialogue between drums and bass (Hernani Faustino). The group’s center of gravity shifts, but in such a way as to reveal its essential democracy. The set’s divided, in whatever sense it’s divided at all, into three sections – “Abandon Yourself,” “Surrender,” and “To The Music” – but the mood and concentration are sustained from first to last, and the titles merely confirm the feeling that by replugging a few expectations of what happens in improvised music, not least its repetition allergy and need to move ever on-and-up, we’re being taken further into a rich seam of exploration.
The Scottish-born poet Kenneth White (who has spent most of his working life away from Scotland) is a pioneer of what he calls geopoetics and of a hidden, transnational arc of creative activity that extends from the Nordic countries to Portugal and into North Africa and the Mediterranean, with mirrored activity on the Eastern seaboard of North Africa. He calls it “Atlantic” culture, and it’s a surprising latecomer to intellectual discourse given how powerful political Atlanticism has been in Europe since the war. Rodrigo Amado is the perfect “Atlantic” artist. His music looks West, to the great saxophone players of modern jazz, but also back to Atlantic crossers like Don Byas (who else shaped a boppish phrase like that?) and there’s even a hint of Dexter Gordon in the way Amado worries at a phrase, musing over it mid-conversation, wondering if he’s saying the right thing, offering an alternative.
It’s a most surprising record, this. Its antecedents – its genre, almost – seem familiar to the point of predictability, and yet nothing about it conforms easily to what we know and expect about such groups. The guitar and bass playing are revelatory. Mota plays in a no-style that seems to bundle up Derek Bailey, Sonny Sharrock and Arto Lindsay in a single phrase. Faustino should be renamed “the Lisbon earthquake,” if he isn’t already, and Ferrandini is one of the most musical drummers I’ve heard in years. Amado himself is a proven quantity, an artist of real and still growing stature. He’s been away on his own European Echoes imprint for a while. This feels like a kind of homecoming.