By Stuart Broomer
Guitarist Luís Lopes is a distinguished figure in the vigorous Lisbon free jazz/improvised music scene. His work covers a broad spectrum that begins with his Humanization 4tet, a hard driving free band with saxophonist Rodrigo Amado and the rhythm section of Texan brothers Aaron and Stefan Gonzalez on bass and drums respectively, a band that has twice toured America, and continues with the similarly energetic Lisbon-Berlin Trio with bassist Robert Landfermann and drummer Christian Lillinger. His approach to sonic improvisation is evident in his duo with French saxophonist Jean-Luc Guionnet and on the literally titled Noise Solo LP. Other dimensions of Lopes’ expansive vision appear in the recent CD by the trio Parrinha/Lopes/Jacinto and the solo LP Love Song.
Lopes plays his customary electric guitar as a prepared lap instrument in the collective trio with José Bruno Parrinha on clarinet and alto and soprano saxophones and Ricardo Jacinto on cello and electronics, and it’s a key to a certain abstraction the trio practices, a shift from the sheer physicality of much of Lopes’ music. The seven tracks are simply numbered: the sole verbal content the trio affixes to its music is that name Garden, but it may say everything. It’s largely textured or timbral music, each episode a series of evolving layers that at times seem linked principally by their simultaneity, even while identity is sublimated in the music; at other times, the levels of intensity and responsive detail are startling. While the focus is sonic, the music is often constructed on scraps of minimal melody, an elemental phrase, a kind of emblem, that’s repeated. ln “1,” a piece of sustained beauty that insists on the garden metaphor (a range of vision over shifting textures and ground and changing patterns of light and shade), melodic repetition and drone fuse to create a kind of raga. While “5” is a sustained episode of electronic grit, “4” stands out for Parrinha’s expressionist alto explosion. That diversion is ultimately drawn into the larger theme when the saxophone line is echoed by the others, as if a bramble has suddenly caught sunlight and cast its shadow on another species. Gradual shifts are a characteristic here, especially on the extended pieces, whether it’s a line from reflection to dense turbulence (“1”) or the opposite (“2”). “6” moves from a certain tense randomness to unison, while “7” is pointillist scattershot. Whatever the details of a piece, there’s a strong sense of attention that links these pieces, a continuing involvement that encourages close listening.
Love Song is in sharp contrast to the feedback-driven Noise Solo and the subtle electronic dimensions of Garden. It’s a late night reflection on the feelings and events of a relationship, played with an almost naked electric guitar sound most notable for its sustained tones and clarity. The very involvement in the guitar is one with the delineation of mood, the simplest slow arpeggio hanging in the air, the subtle mutation from chord to cluster, the gradual elaboration of dissonance in “Evil’s Face,” the absolute brevity of “The Beauty of Love.” It’s deeply personal, deeply felt, intimate music making, but as one might try to describe its depths, the language of music’s mechanics takes over. Every descriptive term, quantitative or qualitative, assumes emotional resonance as one focuses on Lopes’ attention to attack and decay (the sharp attacks and long decays of “Ever Eternal Loneliness,” for example), envelope and sustain, inflections of pitch and time, the back and forth movements between consonance and dissonance. Lopes’ decision to release his solo music on vinyl gives it an absolute presence, shifts in resonance, incidental fingerboard noises and gradations in tone settings contributing to the music’s meaning.