Ornette Coleman released This Is Our Music in 1960, that title an assertion of achievement in making what was in many ways a much maligned music, the almost private practice of an excluded sub-group–free jazz musicians–within the already marginalized world of jazz. Perhaps above all, it was an assertion of rights to an original voice and musical speech. Declaring “This Is Our Language,” Rodrigo Amado marks both his kinship to Coleman and the rich tradition that has developed in free jazz since then, the intense sense of a still close-knit discourse community that has somehow expanded around the world.
Amado is an artist of associations, developing his music through exchanges with both continuing and ad hoc ensembles. He began recording regularly in 2003 with the group he calls Lisbon Improvisation Players, a loose assembly of local musicians and international visitors. While he still convenes different versions of the group, he also leads Motion Trio and Wire Quartet, sometimes adding guests like Jeb Bishop, Steve Swell and Peter Evans, or puts together international bands for concerts and recordings.
There may be something akin to speaking different dialects in these shifting ensembles, as Amado develops an improvisational practice that increasingly parallels language. He can employ the tenor saxophone’s variable and expressive timbre to inflect each of a series of notes, to weight each tone with its own burred envelope and suggestion, to shift voice between phrases, emphasizing a tenor lineage that includes Ben Webster and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis; he can also set up rhythmic patterns in free improvisation with such power that he’s able to inflect time with the precision of Sonny Rollins.
Different improvised musics and methodologies have their own relationships to listening: some work on the sensual core of sound; some construct detailed mathematical models of the cosmos; some construct large if ambiguous narratives; others deconstruct time. Amado's method is dialogical – a conversation, a necessary and spontaneous social ritual among instruments – and it is rooted in both the history and the idea of jazz. This meeting with the veteran Joe McPhee may be Amado’s purest invocation of the free jazz tradition, just as Live in Lisbon with his Motion Trio and trumpeter Peter Evans may be his most convulsive extension of it.
McPhee is one of the principal spokesmen of this tradition, developing his language amongst Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and Don Cherry in the 1960s. McPhee’s work might be conventionally called heartfelt or sincere, but those are vague terms for something that is already unusually clear: though he speaks in a personal voice, McPhee is also a conduit for a musical speech that reaches back to at least the nineteenth century, evidenced by the pointed gospel tune, "My Song Is a Sword," turning up in his repertoire.
We conveniently distinguish to one degree or another jazz and improvised music, with free jazz representing the most ambiguous of middle grounds, a music that can be improvised in all its contours but which retains timbral, rhythmic, emotional and historical connections to jazz. That sense of jazz can involve a continuous pulse, a resemblance of instrumental sounds to the human voice, certain harmonic and melodic preferences that speak subliminally of the blues, rhythm and blues, the collective community shout of New Orleans polyphony that runs to the urban grit of hard bop. If jazz has become a global music, in its vital forms it is based on a certain mysterious relationship to language, as a tongue of the forbidden, an untranslatable code that shares feelings, impulses, and freedoms that cannot be authentically or completely spoken, that at once celebrates the individual and the collective. It is a music that wills transformation, beginning with its own transformations of speech into sound and sound into speech.
This quartet speaks with its own sometimes laconic eloquence, a sense of pure line articulated by Amado, McPhee and Kessler, each of whom is at his most melodic here, the music turning often into spontaneous song, much of it embellished and elaborated, graced by Corsano's clouds of metallic enhancement, as well as his tabla talk and Morse code snare.
The work begins with "The Primal Word," Amado and McPhee defining fundamentals, taking short phrases to unison, finding, briefly, absolute concord, the horns sharing air that is alternately lyric and contemplative. In “This Is Our Language” Chris Corsano suggests the rhythmic speech of tabla before the group stretches the music through moments of heat and light, its shifting layers of time executed with great sleight of hand until the trumpet ultimately passes literally into voice. “Theory of Mind (for Joe)” might be taken for oration, a tenor jeremiad in which energy and articulation assume a singular value, but it’s also dialogue, a highly detailed rhythmic collaboration between Amado and Corsano. McPhee and Kent Kessler have quiet conversations on both “This Is Our Language” and “Ritual Evolution,” the latter a dialogue of harmonics and wisps of sonic suggestion.
Amado is an emerging master of a great tradition, more apparent with each new recording or performance. His music is also its own continuum, a music that starts as if it's already been going on, fortuitously arising in a specific form with the presence of like-minded musicians, a gathering of people who share a broad-based yet quite specific musical language. It doesn't require a head or opening theme, because close listening and strong personalities will generate thematic material within a few seconds, individual voices testing themselves until they find themselves in the collective stream, beginning to enact the dance between individuality and membership in a community -- the first that part that makes you "you," the second that form that makes you sane, all coming together in the dance and shout of the one and the we.
released January 1, 2015
Rodrigo Amado – tenor saxophone
Joe McPhee - pocket trumpet, alto saxophone
Kent Kessler – double bass
Chris Corsano - drums
All compositions by Amado / McPhee / Kessler / Corsano
Recorded by Joaquim Monte at Namouche Studios, Lisbon, December 2nd, 2012
Mixed and Mastered by Joaquim Monte and Rodrigo Amado
Produced by Rodrigo Amado
Executive production by Marek Winiarski
Photos by Nuno Martins
Design by Rui Garrido
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