Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rodrigo Amado

Portuguese saxophonist Rodrigo Amado obviously digs him some Ornette -- his label's called European Echoes, and there's a track on one of his two new albums called "In All Languages" -- but the proximate model I'm hearing in his work is Sonny Rollins: the gritty rasp of his tone, the penchant for theme-and-variations. The difference is that Amado relies on his own imagination, rather than the handiwork of Tin Pan Alley songsmiths, as the framework for his extemporizations.

I first caught wind of Amado through his work with Dallas trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez in Yells At Eels, and with Dennis' sons in guitarist Luis Lopes' Humanization 4tet, but he's already had a couple of releases under his own name (as a member of cooperative groups), another three with the Lisbon Improvisation Players, and a dozen odd appearances on disc as a sideman.

On The Abstract Truth, recorded in 2008, he's joined by Chicagoan Kent Kessler (a regular Ken Vandemark collaborator) on bass and Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. The sound they produce together, while free and fiery, also has a warmth that's unusual in this kind of music. Amado is equally expressive on tenor and baritone saxes. Kessler bows his bass with the same facility as David Izenzon in Ornette's '60s trio, sometimes playing flute-like flurries in the instrument's higher register, while Nilssen-Love varies his accompaniment from Sunny Murray-like abstraction to Elvin Jones-on-Meditations potboiling.

Amado -- himself a photographer whose images have the same elegant simplicity as his musical compositions -- dedicated The Abstract Truth to the surrealist painter De Chirico, and its cover is a painting by the musician's father, a kiss shared by cardboard cutouts; perhaps a comment on the artifice that underlies intimacy?

On Motion Trio, recorded a year later, the Rollins influence begins to sound more like Ben Webster as refracted through Rollins into Archie Shepp and David S. Ware. Here Amado fronts another trio, this time with Miguel Mira (a member of the bands Woods and Diatribes) on cello and Gabriel Ferrandini (who's played with Luis Lopes and saxophonist Nobuyasu Furuya) on drums. There are moments on this disc that are both more subdued and more expansive than anything on The Abstract Truth.

On "Language Call," Amado opens with a behind-the-beat insouciance before taking off on an encyclopedic exploration of the theme. Mira alternately functions as a bassist, playing deft pizzicato lines, and a restless melodic voice, bowing high harmonics and double-stops. Ferrandini has the textural variety and humor of a Han Bennink; he tends to clatter and splatter rather than rumble and thunder. When Amado turns up the heat, he's as likely to counter with an ironic comment as he is to equal the saxophonist's intensity. The aforementioned "In All Languages" is a tour de force of active listening by this well-matched trio.

A worthwhile pair of releases from a distinctive voice on the Euro improvised music scene.


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