Reviews RED trio & Celebration Band

This two-CD set documents a 2018 concert marking the tenth anniversary of Lisbon’s RED’s trio: pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro, bassist Hernâni Faustino and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini. It’s a longstanding band of equals, creating a three-way music in one of the most traditional formats in jazz. Since its inception, the group has distinguished itself not only in terms of the piano trio, but also as a superb collaborative unit, including a series of quartet recordings with John Butcher, Mattias Ståhl and Nate Wooley.

This commemorative concert combines the trio with the Celebration Band, a pool of 13 musicians, and employs the title Suite to link three pieces, each trio member composing/structuring his individual ensemble and segment. The pool includes both RED trio collaborators from previous tours ‒ Butcher (who appears twice) and Mattias Ståhl (a constant along with the trio itself) ‒ and 11 Lisboan associates from whom each trio member will choose four or five. While each piece covers a range of improvisational practices, each member creates a kind of self-portrait, but one realized by nine or ten musicians.

Rodrigo Pinheiro’s work resides at the intersection of free improvisation and high modernism, with quicksilver meetings of design, impulse and chance. Along with Butcher, Ståhl and Red Trio, he draws on several musicians associated with Creative Sources Records’ large ensembles: violist Ernesto Rodrigues, electronic musician Carlos Santos and alto saxophonist Nuno Torres, along with trumpeter Luis Vicente and cellist Ricardo Jacinto. “Corrente” (chain) begins at the edge of inaudibility until Ernesto Rodrigues’ skittering, splintering viola and Ricardo Jacinto’s plucked cello emerge against the plosives of Faustino’s bass, all eventually linked by the swirl of Ståhl’s abstracted vibraphone and Pinheiro’s drum-like prepared piano. The work stretches to 33 minutes, momentarily thinning, becoming more spacious, then creating contrasting phases of dense activity.

Butcher brings complex multiphonics to a field in which Pinheiro, Faustino and Ferrandini are the initial links. The other winds enter against splashes of piano, and there’s a sudden trio of Butcher, Torres and Vicente, spinning rapid lines knotted with flutters, bleats and choked shrieks, continuous threads formed in the rapid overlapping of compound events. A previously unheard sound occurs, between run and blip, so strange it takes relistening to yield Santos’s identity. Ferrandini has become a master of rapid, complex storms, sometimes drumming so quietly it can be mistaken for precipitation and making a trio of electronics, bowed cello and drum kit seem perfectly plausible. Red Trio is so highly attuned, yet open, that visitors can move with and through it in ways that suggest membership, Ståhl and Pinheiro at times creating the illusion that they are one another’s supplementary limbs. There’s a collective musical wisdom at work here, from the slow-quick-near-silence of Butcher’s soprano to Faustino’s bass as a central pivot amidst the swirl. Vicente’s point and edge stand out, as things somehow soften to a walk amidst field noise and some advanced collectivist sputter, a music containing various levels of quiet and pulse that have somehow synchronized.

Drummer Gabriel Ferrandini has spread his musical interests into several areas: free improvisation, jazz, noise rock and composition and his group make-up on the 28-minute “Mais Vale” (more value) represents those associations. Tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado and cellist Miguel Mira are here from Motion Trio; Other long-time associates are sometimes distant rock/noise bands: tenor saxophonist Pedro Sousa (also from the tuneful and subtle trio of Volúpias [Clean Feed] with Ferrandini and Faustino, and numerous other associations), percussionist David Maranha (from a percussion duo) and vocalist/ electric bassist Miguel Abreu (from the band Caveira).

“Mais Vale” begins with spacious, somber piano chords hanging in air, resonance massaging time as overtones die away and new tones are added, all strongly suggestive of Morton Feldman’s piano music and superbly articulated by Pinheiro. Ferrandini has demonstrated a knack for spacious, minimalist melodic composition (see Volúpias) in which reverie and menace can seem like intimates, unlikely but oddly secure. He has also ventured far into other idioms, some of which appear here. One of the principal elements is a vocal part, Abreu repeating an echoing phrase, almost a dirge, that hangs, for this listener, between hypnotic and irritating, something that may be a result of the mix or more likely the original hall acoustics. While it may compromise the ultimate effect of the piece, there’s much that’s brilliant here, including Amado’s extended tenor solo, almost a monotone of rapid-fire tonguing, like sped-up speech operating within the narrowest spectra of inflected pitch. There’s also a mercurial vibraphone solo, during which Ferrandini and Ståhl seem to pass through one another’s voices.

The longest work at 42:11, Faustino’s “Ditirambo” occupies the second of the two CDs. The band includes Butcher and Ståhl but its distinguishing mark is the presence of Sei Miguel, the pocket trumpeter who is almost a father figure to Lisboan free jazz, an introspective musician whose shafts of sound can be at once muffled and spiky and who appears here with his long-time partner Fala Mariam on trombone. The other musicians are Santos on electronics and Jacinto on cello, making this the hardest of these ensembles to characterize. It hardly matters. Like Sei Miguel, Faustino’s roots run deep in free jazz and the music is ultimately a triumph of these extended roots.

“Ditirambo” begins with a long stretch by the trio itself, richly dramatic, gestural music in which the three display the near telepathic empathy that can develop between musicians who play together for over a decade in multiple contexts. The first additional voice to enter is Butcher’s, at once machine-like and warm, elegiac and multiply-traditioned. It’s a mark of good improvisors that they can find the richest common ground available, and that is what every one in this band ultimately does, reflecting but not disturbing common roots that run to blues, Ornette, bop, Mingus, and some diverse version of swing. There is a long minimalist stretch towards the end when very few musicians are playing, but the sonic detail is so subtle as to blur bass, piano, drum, saxophone, and electronics together. Gradually welling pedal points call up a wondrously Mingus/ Ellington texture (where many bassists’ hearts reside). Though unexpected in the preceding terrain, it’s all achieved with no small thanks to trombonist Fala Miriam, whose subtly guttural smears and wails summon up voices like Britt Woodman and Quentin Jackson. The roiling piano and vocalic brass pull up something of unthinkable drama and tradition, a measure of the musicians’ and Faustino’s depth of musical personality, a dream of soul and community that can never be ideally realized but which cannot be escaped.

Lisbon is a remarkable outpost for improvising orchestras, from the continuously evolving ensembles of Ernesto Rodrigues and brilliant one-offs like Luis Lopes’ Lisbon Free Improvisation Unit in which many of these musicians play. Red Trio + Celebration Band is another important development. Stuart Broomer

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The Portugues RED trio is without a doubt one of the best piano trios in Europe. The trio of Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano, Hernani Faustino on bass and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums has received a lot of positive reviews over the years on our blog.

For their first album on Clean Feed in 2010, I wrote “It is incredible what kind of emotional depth and sonic visions this trio creates, out of nowhere, out of nothing“. It was no surprise that they were also open to add other musicians to join them at concerts, or the other way round, other musicians were interested in performing with them: John Butcher (“Empire“), Nate Wooley (“Stem“), Matthias Ståhl (“North And The Red Team“). Other albums are “Rebento” (2013), “Mineral” (2015), “Summer Skyshift” (2016).

Now, four years later, we get this memorable album with the “celebration band”, an ad hoc group of musicians, primarily also from Portugal but with the addition of some partners on the previous albums such as John Butcher and Matthias Ståhl. The other members are Sei Miguel and Luís Vicente on trumpet, Fala Mariam on trombone, Pedro Sousa and Rodrigo Amado on tenor saxophone, Nuno Torres on alto saxophone, Ernesto Rodrigues on viola, Ricardo Jacinto and Miguel Mira on cello, Carlos Santos on electronics, Miguel Abreu on voice and electric bass, and David Maranha on percussion.

The performance was recorded to celebrate their tenth anniversary at the Teatro Maria Matos in February 2018. The theater itself commissioned the concert “Suite“, a work in three acts, each written by one of the three founding members, and deliberately composed for the ensemble mentioned above.

The first track, called “Corrente” is written by Rodrigo Pinheiro, as an half hour long magnificent piece for the ensemble, and it by itself can be considered a suite, with its varying subthemes and thematic shifts, ranging from slow fragile textures to intense and dense interaction, with all restraints dropping away near the end of the improvisation. The second track, “Mais Vale“, is written by Ferrandini, and is for me a disappointment. It is less complex in texture, more pychedelic in its delivery, and the vocals are a complete letdown. I understand that this is a very subjective appreciation, but it creates a totally different musical universe than what we are used from the band.

Luckily, the third track, “Ditirambo“, composed by Faustinho, makes up for this. The piece is more than 42 minutes long and spectacularly good. Again, with this length, it cannot do any different than to bring a lot of variation. It starts slowly with the trio gradually creating their music out of little sonic ingredients, barely audible, which get more voice and volume for the first eight minutes: the trio as we know and admire them, creative, intense, mesmerising. Then some of the other instruments join, adding different layers to the already dense sound, which comes to a silent stand-still, offering the stage to the horns, with Sei Miguel and Fala Mariam setting up a sad dialogue challenged by the electronics of Carlos Santos and then Butcher’s sax. It evolves in unpredictable ways, navigating silence, then moving forcefully into full band power and volume, then to silence again, and leading us to a grand finale of bright and expansive music: a wonderful closure to celebrate the 10 years of the RED Trio.

Get the double CD. You will love it.  Steff Gijssels 

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A truly monumental celebrations of the tenth anniversary of one of the most important formations of the Portuguese scene, whose discography is largely missing in this book. The band includes also international collaborators of the trio, like John Butcher and Mattias Ståhl. The celebration band include cream of the cream of the Portuguese scene and everybody has an opportunity to show her(his mastery. The suite consists of three parts of very different character. 33 minutes long “Corrente” by Rodrigo starts with a string fragment in a chamber music style, with a growing piano’s role. The winds enter then with strong riffs and collective improvisations. The support of drums and percussion, including vibes is remarkable. The piano with the vibes have a kind of solo/duo in the final part, although everything here is a joint effort. Before the final eruption of the band is cut suddenly and the second part, there are beautiful soprano saxophone and trumpet statements. The second part is “Mais Vale” by Gabriel Ferrandini that lasts a little over 28 minutes. It starts with a tranquil minimalist piano cadenza. After five minutes winds and strings enter, as well as Miguel Abreu with his psychedelic voice. Drumming plays in all that extremely important role shaping spacial character of the whole music. Around the 14th minutes the bass and vibes have their time, but Miguel returns with a beautiful support of the winds. Beautiful, meditative, trance music!!!

The final “Ditirambo” is by Hernâni Faustino, and it starts with a peaceful piano – bass dialogue, supported by delicate drumming and electronic. Hernâni then starts his solo statement, but soon is joined by the piano and the bass — a “classic” RED trio.

After another quiet fragment led by percussion and bowed bass, the winds enter: I would say the first is Rodgigo with his characteristic “m uting the saxophone with his leg”. But then more instrument appear, including the trombone, a trumpet and more. The drums return supporting a tenor sole and become very powerful for a while. Another beautiful, even “melodic” fragment starts led by Mattias Ståhl and Rodrigo. In the 27th minute the section starts a fast “walking bass” supports for the trombone and trumpet duo.

The mood tranquilizes again, to explode in the final reading of the theme by the RED trio, the brass and the saxophones.

For me one of the most important recordings of the Lisbon scene in this century!!!\\ Maciej Lewenstein