There’s an old story about Steve Lacy that probably can’t be repeated too often. In 1968, the soprano saxophonist runs into Frederic Rzewski on a street in Rome. Rzewski pulls out a pocket tape recorder and asks Lacy to characterize the differences between composition and improvisation in fifteen seconds. Lacy replied: “In fifteen seconds the difference between composition and improvisation is that in composition you have all the time you want to decide what to say in fifteen seconds, while in improvisation you have fifteen seconds.” Later, Rzewski timed Lacy’s response and discovered Lacy took exactly fifteen seconds to answer the question.
Improvisers can say a lot in fifteen seconds, as this first meeting between saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love will confirm. Recorded on the afternoon before their debut at the 2004 Spectrum Festival in Oporto, Teatro is an excellent example of how improvisers find the means for collective expression in astonishingly short order. Except for a first, levels-setting take, all of the music recorded on this initial session is presented here in order of performance.
Throughout the album, the music exudes an intrinsically cohering urgency, the type saxophone, bass and drums trios have articulated since Sonny Rollins’ late 1950s unit with Henry Grimes and Pete LaRoca. Intensity as an ordering principal in improvisation went into two distinct directions in the ‘60s, a divergence that is perhaps better traced through trios than larger ensembles. Like others who sought to change the shape of jazz rather than atomize it, Ornette Coleman used his established lexicon as the focal point for his trios. Contemporaneously, avatars like Peter Brotzmann sought a sound-based unity in his trio with Peter Kowald and Sven-Ake Johansson. These two approaches created a dialectical tension that later trios like Amalgam, Air, The Trio, Sam Rivers’ trio with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul, and Parker/Guy/Lytton, have progressively stretched. In doing so, they have created a continuity, if not a lineage.
Prior to their meeting with Amado, both Kessler and Nilssen-Love contributed to this trio lineage as, respectively, members of DKV Trio (with Hamid Drake and Ken Vandermark) and The Thing (with Mats Gustafsson and Ingebrigt Haker Flaten). These two groups are central to a intercontinental movement that, beginning in the 1990s, retooled free jazz for a generation whose idea of hard core music is more apt to be Sonic Youth than Albert Ayler. Yet, Kessler and Nilssen-Love’s sensibilities extend far beyond the laudable mandates of DKV and The Thing. They can dig into changes with fluid ease and they can freely improvise with soft-spoken finesse.
All of Kessler and Nilssen-Love’s assets are called upon in this set with Amado, a multi-lingual improviser equally comfortable and fluent in freely improvised forms of jazz and chamber music. As evidenced by an earlier trio recording with violinist Carlos Zingaro and bassist Ken Filiano, The Space Between (Clean Feed; 2003), Amado can mesh with low-volume strings or provide vivid contrasts in attack and tone. With Lisbon Improvisation Players (also documented on Clean Feed), a self-described “open formation project,” Amado frequently demonstrates an ability to give form to fire. And, as guest artist with trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez’s Yells at Eels, Amado incisively toasts the jazz vernacular instead of regurgitating it.
Throughout the album, Amado, Kessler and Nilssen-Love create equilibrium from their respective brinkmanship. This is crucial, given that the trio’s frequent shifts in intensity and phraseology. Within seconds, the trio can be barreling like a big rig down the highway and then swoop like birds around a tree, but without leaving a fingerprint-laden trigger moment on the recording. There are also an abundance of passages that jolt like only live music can, usually. Far more often than not, it’s a trio with a substantial history that has such an impact on CD, not a trio without any. Rodrigo Amado, Kent Kessler and Paal Nilssen-Love’s ability to achieve this on their first meeting is exceptional. It takes exactly fifteen seconds listening to Teatro to realize that.
All compositions by Amado / Kessler / Nilssen-Love
Recorded by Francisco Leal at Teatro Nacional São João, Oporto, February 14th, 2004
at Spectrum Festival / Concert series produced by Pedro Santos
Mixed by Flak and Rodrigo Amado / Produced by Rodrigo Amado
Photos by Nuno Martins / Fernando Amado photo by unknown author
Paintings by Manuel Amado / Design by Rui Garrido
Special thanks to Ricardo Pais, Pedro Santos, Flak, Francisco Leal, Bill Shoemaker, Gerard Rouy and Nuno Martins.
Recently voted as #1 Tenor Saxophonist on El Intruso International Critics Poll, as stated by a poll of 50 critics and
writers from 18 countries, Rodrigo Amado frequently tours Europe and North America with his own groups. Stuart Broomer wrote: "Amado is an emerging master of a great tradition, more apparent with each new recording or performance."...more