Uivo Zebra



Uivo Zebra (cd Bocian Records)

Jorge Nuno electric guitar

Hernâni Faustino electric bass

João Sousa drums


While discussing an album by legendary drummer Jack DeJohnette, jazz critic Gary Giddins once aptly stated: “Jazz is at bottom a conflict between the will to freedom and the desire for discipline.” He was of course referring to the common situation (in jazz, at least) where musicians work with composed material and stretch it, provide their personal slant with the element of improvisation. But you could argue that even in surroundings where the composed element is discarded, the tension remains. Even improvisation is built on a conflict between what’s possible and what makes sense.
And that not only involves taking risks, but also discipline. The self-described Portuguese ‘power trio’ of Jorge Nuno, Hernâni Faustino and João Sousa actively seeks out this field of friction. It’s what they’ve all been doing for a while. Sousa’s involvement in the collective/label A Besta (and maybe also his love of surreal poetry), Nuno’s membership of psych/improve heavyweights Signs Of The Silhouette and other collaborations, and Faustino’s omnipresence in the improvised/experimental music scene bring some key ingredients to the table, but the way they use these elements is still something else.
It’s a refreshing and – quite often – utterly ravaging tightrope act between being rooted and jumping from a cliff. Headfirst. It’s to be found in the way they create shapes out of sound. The way the album sets off, it also could have ended up in a free-form exploration with a vague psychedelic twist that goes to nowhere in particular. The artistry of excellent musicians that are also perceptive listeners, is also to be found in the way they create form or cohesion without reverting to clichés you can see coming from a mile away.
The remainder of the record only serves to enhance the breadth of their creative radius: the compact “Cãibra-Tumulto” is an aural hand-grenade, filled with frenzied, disjointed guitar howls, with Sousa never settling for one approach and Faustino attacking those strings with a crackling aggression. The remaining longer pieces verge from ghostly interaction and exploratory shadings to showers of screaming feedback, detours through areas of stomping, ritualistic trance-rock and expressionist action that’s sometimes reminiscent of Marc Ribot’s short-lived trio with Trevor Dunn and Calvin Weston. The sound is as overwhelming as it is free. Not only electric, but also electrifying.
When improvisers turn to electricity and imposing volume levels, the results are sometimes as intense as they are tedious, because they forget that it can quickly become a stodgy, lumbering mess that bleeds out way too soon. Not so here, as the musicians of Uivo Zebra have the experience, but also (and more importantly) the awareness that the most enduring results are found when guts, self-knowledge, shared vision and discipline are kept in rigorous balance. Which needn’t imply it becomes safe or toothless. Make no mistake: this record still hits you like a nasty headbutt. Guy Peters 


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