Rodrigo Amado is a powerful and consistently inventive saxophonist from Portugal. He has a rich, soulful sound, in the tradition of Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Rollins, characterised by bold sonorities, tempered power, and tender malleability. However, taking the baton from Rollins, he’s also attuned to the urgent vitality of free music.
Amado has recorded twice (in 2006 and 2009) with the formidable bass/drums team of Kent Kessler and Paal Nilssen-Love, and the 2010 album Searching for Adam (NotTwo), recorded with John Hébert, Gerald Cleaver and Taylor Ho Bynum, is a personal favourite.
His working groups, which include both of those under review, are just as potent. Motion Trio is, on this occasion, the more exploratory unit, Wire Quartet the more direct. Both are equally fierce.
The Freedom Principle (NoBusiness), is the fifth album by Amado’s Motion Trio. It was recorded at a Lisbon studio session in March 2013. (A limited edition, vinyl-only companion release, Live in Lisbon (NoBusiness) was recorded in a different studio in the same city two days earlier.) It features Peter Evans in a prominent guest role, and Amado proves just as malleably copacetic with the trumpeter as he was with cornettist Bynum on Searching for Adam.
The album’s title track stretches to 26:46. It starts off choppy, with Amado vocalising short phrases and Evans, by circular breathing, maintaining a burred line that buzzes and, suddenly, pitch-shifts, bee-like. When they come together the friction is amplified. Ferrandini keeps busy unobtrusively, whirring percussively beneath them with light-touch precision, and Mira matches him for industriousness with nimble plucking that suggests an underlying Gnawa (Afro-Islamic spiritual) groove.
Eight minutes in, Evans takes the first of the album’s numerous superb solos. He’s recently moved on from the usually kick-ass Mostly Other People Do The Killing, following the release of that quartet’s Blue, a pointless rehash of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Evans’ potency here only serves to emphasise what a dead shark project that was. He switches, with remarkable agility, from frontline agitation in duo with Ferrandini, through a controlled diminuendo, to a teasing run of licks that elicit steady melancholic counterpoint from Amado. Then he drops out, leaving the leader to build a long, increasingly intensely-measured solo of his own.
This all builds to collective intensities at the halfway mark. Amado and Evans, in particular, both spit licks at speed, though Amado never loses the arc of his trajectory. Mira and Ferrandini, showing immaculate awareness, then drop out, leaving the horns’ exchange exposed, before re-entering to work their own imperatives forcefully into the fallout. In this more open endgame Amado and Mira combine beautifully, the cellist nimble, his timbre tight and fulsome. Ultimately, in a final throwdown, all four players find reserves of stamina and individuating character.
“Shadows” (18:36) has the quartet exploring more ‘out’ sonorities. Evans plays in air-leak high register, and Mira matches that with waspish bowing while Amado purrs away at the sidelines. Lots of energies, notably Ferrandini’s, remain unsounded, but the drummer eventually produces enough frictional tinder for the collective to spark, and then fans the fire. There’s a cooling to abstraction after nine minutes, more space for personal exploration, and this time Evans ignites, a will-o’-wisp drawing his fellow travellers well away from safe paths. His concluding solo, with full-group support, Amado see-sawing on a scuzzy R’n’B riff, is incandescent, and the raw braying of a final horn-locking makes for a thrilling conclusion.
Evans introduces “Pepper Packed” (12:03) with a 2:30 showcase solo that’s complete unto itself. Ferrandini and Mira then duet, exposing the intricacies of their aggregation, until Amado lays down some profound tenor. Evans adds further commentary, bolsters unison heads, and, after Mira gets to elaborate his own contribution with only Ferrandini in support, it’s a muted Evans who plays the piece out with a muted, attenuated last post: But with a sequence of pocket solos in varying registers, it’s Amado who stakes his claim on the territory.
Just to be clear, The Freedom Principle is a superb album.
Wire Quartet (Clean Feed) was recorded a full two years earlier, in January 2011. The opening piece, “Abandon Yourself”, initially sounds spacious and gentle after the intensities of The Freedom Principle. Guitarist Manuel Mota’s sound is luminous and bluesy, his fingerpicking initially complimenting Faustino’s double bass, patterning thicker bass emphases with stippling, but combines in abrasively metallic rivulets once – and it doesn’t take long – the three-way ignites and Faustino gets to work those bass strings hard.
There’s less overt listening going on here. Though awareness seems high, the interplay of this trio is denser, more aggressive and rebarbative. But at 12:00 there’s a sudden cessation, a silence punctuated only by percussive touches from Ferrandini, and tentative soundings by Mota. Ferrandini then plays lightly on cymbals and metallic peripherals while Amado thoughtfully soliloquises, Mota and Faustino shading his progress. It’s a long piece at 28 minutes, so there’s plenty of time to revive initial intensities, time even another draw-down for rhythmic exploration, and Amado finally imposes himself with possibly Ken Vandermark-inspired heavy-bottomed R’n’B riffing, as heard on The Freedom Principle‘s “Shadows”.
Mota makes some abrasive sounds amid the licks that lap up against Faustino’s fulsome double bass on “Surrender” (08:31). It all sounds rather fractious until Amado imposes himself. He does so methodically, and positively encourages his teammates to chime in. Mota does so, aggressively, seeming to agitate Faustino and Ferrandini, but the group exhibit a masterful collective grasp of tension and release – ratcheting up the tension behind an increasingly heated sermon from Amado, and only releasing it once they sense he’s peaked and ready to cool.
It seems the trio needed the workout of “Abandon Yourself” to calibrate themselves. “Surrender” is top-notch improv. And “To the Music” (13:10) is the kind of post-intensity cool-down that often follows a peak performance. A cool-down, that is, which inevitably heats back up to a heightened pitch of marshalled ferocity before the close. Mota’s barbed scrabble is pitched against Faustino’s more pliant thrum, with Ferrandini combustibly propulsive at the rear, and Amado has to blow hard, in measured phrases, to impose himself. He allows everyone to let off steam though, before guiding them in for a nicely judged diminuendo to the album’s concluding silence.
Rodrigo Amado tenor saxophone; Gabriel Ferrandini drums. On The Freedom Principle: Peter Evans trumpet; Miguel Mira cello. On Wire Quartet: Manuel Mota guitar; Hernani Faustino double bass.
Rodrigo Amado – Searching for Adam (reviewed for The Jazz Mann, 2010).
Mostly Other People Do The Killing – Slippery Rock
Convergence Quartet – Slow and Steady