The Portuguese composer, producer and double-bassist Hugo Carvalhais made his recorded debut with one of 2010’s stand-out albums, Nebulosa, which featured NYC alto saxophonist Tim Berne alongside Carvalhais’ regular bandmates Mário Costa (drums) and Gabriel Pinto (piano, synthesizer). Particula (Clean Feed) is every bit as good, and more distinctive still. Here, the core trio is reunited with a regular collaborator, soprano saxophonist Emile Parisien, and violinist Dominique Pifarély is a significant new presence.
Carvalhais plays electronics as well as bass, extending the quintet’s palette both tonally and texturally, and Pifarély combines beautifully with those electronics and Pinto’s synth.
Particula is a strikingly original electro-acoustic fusion of new music and modern jazz. All evidence suggests that the album was meticulously composed with the individual colours and talents of the ensemble in mind, but the music flows with the immediacy of intuitive improvisation rather than painstaking interpretation.
Tracks three and four constitute a sort of diptych, across which each of the quintet’s elements come to the fore by turn. “Simulacrum” has a luminous solo contrabass intro, then progresses through first a feature for piano flecked with glints of metal percussion and electric keys, then a drums solo, and finally a saxophone soliloquy with shifting accompaniment. Pifarély then takes an unfettered solo on “Capsule”, and another after Pinto’s response on synthesizer. The piece ends in a flurry of agitation as their exchanges incite a percussive response from Costa and Carvalhais.
As the album title Particula (‘particle’) suggests, Carvalhais’ music emphasises the ensemble as particulate, albeit never at the expense of its essential unity. “Cortex” is a brief, unsettling piece, with Pinto playing on the piano’s harp and Carvalhais bowing drily around his bass’s bridge.
All reviewers note the upper-register focus of Pifarély’s violin and Parisien’s sax, with the leader’s bass rarely venturing beyond its lower range. Carvalhais’ gravidity is a nice counterpoint to the agility and folkloric lyricism of the violin. Parisien occasionally plays with a touch of Berne’s pungency, but more often responds to the perspicuity of his bandmates with mellifluousness: his clarinet-like tonality on “Generator” is akin to the rich, lyrical flow of Wayne Shorter.
On the balladic “Omega”, Pinto plays with a lucidity that’s comparable both tonally and structurally to Paul Bley’s work in the early 60s Jimmy Giuffre trio. The group develop this tune with the scampering, inquisitive delicacy of exploratory rodents, all activity bound up with interstitial pause and attunement.
There is neither bass nor drums on the last track, “Amniotic”, which sounds at first evanescent, comprising inchoate microsounds coalescing in fleeting, unforced exchanges; music of meditated beauty. An emergent blending of sax and violin yields to first a churchy synth meditation, then a brief final flurry of double-tongued sax and electronics.
Particula is outstanding, a highly distinctive synthesis of styles, performed by an ensemble which graces Carvalhais’ singularly beautiful music with lissome luminosity.