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PÃO - Pão

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Artist: PÃO

Album: Pão

Label: Shh Puma

Review date: Jul. 10, 2012

This is the first offering from Lisbon-based trio PÃO, which consists of tenor saxophonist Pedro Sousa, keyboardist Tiago Sousa and the electronician known as Travassos. We are given three lengthy pieces that seem to be improvisations, the longest of which, “It was All Downhill After the Sling,” nearly reaches the 25-minute mark. The trio paints on a huge canvas, inhabiting what Evan Parker labels the laminar, or long-droned, world of AMM, or certain passages from Musica Elettronica Viva, rather than what he calls the atomistic realm of Spontaneous Music Ensemble and associated improvisers, such as Derek Bailey or Paul Rutherford.

Parker’s description of AMM’s music as “layered” led Eddie Prevost, in the liner notes to the triple AMM CD Laminal, to refer whimsically to the submarine sandwich. I’d like to extend the metaphor to explain why, ultimately, PÃO’s debut fails. A good sub is unified; you taste each ingredient, but something holds everything together, blends the flavors and textures so that the whole experience exceeds the impact of each part. This is certainly true with AMM’s music, despite radical changes in style and execution. If a point of comparison is to be made, PÃO’s vision resembles that of AMM’s Crypt session from 1968 in scope and dynamic range. The music ebbs and flows in vast waves of uhr-drone, wending its way through discernable tonal centers as the glacial structures are built and rebuilt in slow fade. The problem is that for the most part, each layer in PÃO’s structures exists as a separate layer, unification all but absent. Take the opening of “Sling,” where a sustained harmonium note contrasts with some breathy saxophone utterances and, a bit later, semi-rhythmic percussives. The layers seem to be functioning at cross-purposes, like badly written counterpoint.

This is not to deny some excellent playing, notably from Pedro Sousa, whose sound is unique and exciting, especially in the very tangible way he uses his breath to support the long fluttered tones he floats over harmonium and electronics. It isn’t even that there’s a lack of listening; the group meets at strategic points, converging on a tonal center in some very beautiful moments of dialogue. Listen to the opening of “Dycon Tree,” to the way saxophone merges with the other elements, creating a delicate balance so that the instruments become indistinguishable. Perhaps this is a path for the group to follow? As it stands, and despite an excellent recording, Pão seems to be a disc documenting a group in the process of finding a voice and a balance.

By Marc Medwin

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