Singer/composer Sara Serpa releases Close Up, a conceptual album inspired by experimentation and changing identities
Close Up, to be released March 16th 2018, via Clean Feed, presents Serpa’s new trio with saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and cellist Erik Friedlander exploring an exposed and hyper detailed soundscape of original compositions
“Serpa is a fresh and riveting presence on the vocal-jazz landscape.”– Nate Chinen, JazzTimes
“Serpa possesses a preternatural cool, injecting weightless sophistication and melodic grace into everything she touches.” – Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader
“Serpa moves easily between traditional jazz vocalism, improvisation, and new music, and has one of the most elegant and beautiful voices on the scene.”– George Grella, The Brooklyn Rail
Through a series of critically acclaimed releases over the past ten years, Lisbon, Portugal native, singer and composer Sara Serpa has continually defied the limitations of genre, implementing a singular instrumental approach to her vocal style. Her new album, Close Up, presents the compelling configuration of voice, saxophone and cello, exploring Serpa’s own compositions. Accompanied by a stellar new trio, Serpa finds her partners in two innovative improvisers with distinct musical personalities: saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, one of the most significant voices in contemporary jazz and improvised music, and Downtown veteran cellist Erik Friedlander.
“The configuration of voice, saxophone and cello exposes each instrument with a precise vulnerability,” says Serpa. “From within this exposure, we look for cohesion and collective sound. I write the material, but the music takes shape in the process of our rehearsals and the time we spend together, through discussion and collective experimentation.”
The result is an album that resembles a high resolution photograph, a mesmerizing play on the idea of close-ups: the compositions, the musicians and their roles within the trio, and the recording process.
“The compositions also reveal close-ups of different episodes in my life,” Serpa explains. Take the example of the poignant song “Woman,” using the French philosopher Luce Irigaray’s text. “It exposes the invisibility of motherhood. Because that experience is recent to me, the text resonated with my thoughts and feelings,” Serpa offers. “Writing this song was part of a healing process, as I dealt with the realizations of the lack of support women artists receive as mothers, and of the paradoxical loneliness one can feel in one of life’s most beautiful events.”
All the compositions present striking atmospheres, glimmering with melodic and dissonant sounds, unified and transformed by the trio. Serpa, Laubrock and Friedlander play with their roles, alternating in creating backgrounds, to holding down bass lines, or to playing extremely long tones that become textures. “To find our place without a harmonic instrument was an interesting challenge and I enjoyed learning how to be independent, to be featured as soloist, or to act in ensemble, whatever each song was calling for.” Laubrock and Friedlander are valuable partners in these roles; shifting with their unpredictable phrasing, extreme versatility, and attentive ears.
Iranian film director Kiarostami’s film Close Up is cited as an influence in the album’s liner notes. “The movie (a masterpiece itself) plays with the idea of actors who are in fact not actors but become actors of a fictitious film, providing a common thread between the film and the music I was creating at the same time I was watching it.”
The quality of being still, of observing as nature unfolds, comes across in the song “Storm Coming,” highlighted by Ingrid Laubrock’s masterful solo improvisation. In the dark and ambient section, each instrument blends into the other, rendering the piece an impressionistic sonic experience, an image of dark clouds slowly gathering before a storm.
Serpa, whose natural instinct is to sing wordlessly -“When I lack words, I sing sounds, and emotions are conveyed through those sounds” – uses literature as inspiration in several of this album’s pieces: Luce Irigaray for “Woman,” and Virginia Woolf in “The Future.” Portuguese poet Ruy Bello’s “Pássaros,” Birds, is the backbone for an eccentric and energetic piece. “The poem is about how birds are tree’s fruits, and how birds make the trees sing. Imagining the trees singing is an inspiring image,” the singer explains.
“Object,” “Quiet Riot,” and “Sol Enganador,” exploratory and complex in their compositional nature, are all instrumental pieces, in which the voice functions as an equal to the cello and the saxophone.
Close Up reveals Serpa’s voice as never before – her sound is full, consistent, and expressive. “Cantar Ao Fim,” at the end of the album’s journey, starts with a vocal improvisation that makes one wonder whether Serpa is singing right next to your ear, intimate and quotidian. “This song came out of an improvisation I recorded on my phone when I was out in the mountains, at night. That moment stayed with me, looking at the mountains and singing without thinking or judging what was coming out. There is something very powerful in singing alone in the nature.”
Lisbon, Portugal native, Sara Serpa is a singer, composer, improviser who implements a unique instrumental approach to her vocal style. Recognized for her distinctive wordless singing, Serpa has been immersed in the field of jazz, improvised and experimental music since first arriving in New York in 2008. Described by JazzTimes magazine as “a master of wordless landscapes” and by the New York Times as “a singer of silvery poise and cosmopolitan outlook,” Serpa started her recording and performing career with jazz luminaries such as Grammy-nominated pianist Danilo Perez, and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow pianist Ran Blake. Her ethereal music draws from a broad variety of inspirations including literature, film, visual arts as well as history and nature. As a leader, she has produced and released seven albums; the latest being “All The Dreams” in collaboration with guitarist André Matos. Serpa has collaborated with an extensive array musicians including John Zorn, Mycale Vocal 4tet, Guillermo Klein, Mark Turner, Zeena Parkins, Andreia Pinto-Correia, Derek Bermel, Aya Nishina, Tyshawn Sorey, Nicole Mitchell, among many others.
All music by Sara Serpa
Recorded live by Pete Rende, June 15th 2017, at Pete’s House, Brooklyn, New York | Mixed by Pete Rende | Mastered by Luís Delgado
Produced by Sara Serpa | Executive prodution by Pedro Costa for Trem Azul | Design and artwork by Travassos
“Future” by Virginia Woolf, entry in The Diary of Virginia Woolf: 1915-1919
“Woman” by Luce Irigaray, in Between East and West: From Singularity to Community, 2002
“Pássaros” by Ruy Belo from “Algumas proposições com pássaros e árvores que o poeta remata com uma referência ao coração”, in Homem de Palavras, 1970