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Ernesto Rodrigues / Alfredo Costa Monteiro / Guilherme Rodrigues / Margarida Garcia - Cesura

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Artist: Ernesto Rodrigues / Alfredo Costa Monteiro / Guilherme Rodrigues / Margarida Garcia

Album: Cesura

Label: Creative Sources

Review date: May. 10, 2004

As I’ve written elsewhere, the real success of free improvisation as an international music comes only to the extent that it maintains its vitality as a local music. Almost every major player you can think of, from Evan Parker to Ken Vandermark, is a stalwart member of a local scene. So it’s always with some delight that I dig into a new cluster of players from a new locale. Such is the case with the fine Portuguese improvisers featured on Cesura: violist Ernesto Rodrigues, his cellist son Guilherme, accordionist Alfredo Costa Monteiro, and electric double bassist Margarida Garcia (who now lives in New York). The title is the Portugese word for pauses, which gives a good indication as to the methodology employed in this highly abstract music. But the term also refers to “both the act of cutting and to the scar that very same act produces,” according to Rui Eduardo Paes. That’s an interesting gloss on music as thoughtful and self-aware as this.

Where can a free improviser – that breed of musician who generally seeks to avoid the traps of idiom, cliché, custom, expectation, and form – go in 2004 that hasn’t already been traversed and mapped? Some continue to plow ahead within one of the trajectories established by first and second-generation European free players, while others explore what Evan Parker once referred to as “the gesture of no gesture” (as an example, Taku Sugimoto and Radu Malfatti recently reached a point in their duo music where they each played probably less than a dozen notes per hour). Somewhere between these two approaches is where we find this quartet, standing just this side of outright silence, delicately constructing a group language that is reserved, enigmatic, almost alien, but highly suggestive nonetheless.

The accordion is an instrument made for free improv, with its wheezes, crackles, and groans; Monteiro wields it expertly and is one of the key architects of this musical space. But the dominant voices seem to be father and son Rodrigues, both of whom possess a wide array of arco resources (Garcia certainly uses a bow quite frequently, but is fond of brutalizing her instrument’s bridge and generating lots of quirky percussive sounds). You can do an awful lot with a bow: make a gurgling wet sound, emit a sigh, slash in the upper register, or create a thick tonal bed. All the techniques are on display during these four tracks, but the instrumentalism doesn’t call attention to itself. Rather, the aural effect is very similar to that achieved on many electro-acoustic recordings but is done with entirely acoustic instruments (and ones with a very rich, woody sound at that). The physical properties of the instruments themselves become integral to the sound created. To some, this music – with no obvious formal mechanisms or gestures to hang your ear on – might seem alienating insofar as it’s tentative, even willfully elliptical. But there is so much detail, so much warmth in this playing that I find it fascinating.

By Jason Bivins

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