By Ken Waxman
Expressing themselves on a CD that is surprisingly calm as well as cutting edge are the members of the Lama group, who also extend the band’s internationalism with this memorable set. Consisting of trumpeter Susana Santos Silva from Porto, Portugal, plus Portuguese bassist Gonçalo Almeida and Montreal-born drummer Greg Smith, both of whom live in Rotterdam; the trio’s guest on The Elephant’s Journey is Belgian clarinetist Joachim Badenhorst. Instead of adding unnecessary weight to the musical pachyderm’s load, Badenhorst joins Silva in creating resilient acoustic timbres which are buoyant enough to coordinate nicely with the other instruments’ electronically enhanced structures.
Like the use of an animal trainer’s hook, arrangements on the eight tracks here adeptly direct the themes so that their singularity is apparent with little pressure added to the load of the titular camelid. Case in point is The Gorky’s Sky, where Almeida’s string slaps, surmounting harmonized group precision, make the reedist’s Dolphy-like tremolo dissonance appear to come from within an ensemble larger than a quartet.Smith’s percussion prowess gets a workout on Crime & Punishment, but there’s no felony associated with his bass-drum accents which downplay clashes and clatter, while triumphant trumpet blasts mixed with bass clarinet snorts confirm that Lama plus one can operate with the speed and efficiency of the best swing era combos. At the same time, although Silva’s chirping hockets often create enough unusual obbligatos to the spider weblike patterning of Badenhorst’s timbres, additional experimentation isn’t neglected either.
Smith’s composition Murakami – the other tunes are all by Almeida – finds the clarinetist expressing a sour, bansuri-like squeak before the combination of lustrous trumpet extensions and positioned bass strokes surmount the dissonance with meditative calm.
Featuring textures that are both quixotic and pointed, the concluding Don Quixote includes understated electronic loops, contralto reed slurs, string pressures that move crab-like across the bass face, Smith’s tabla-like drone and Silva’s melodious brass accents.
By the time the track finishes, it – and the CD – show that careful cooperation among equals leads to a summation of Lama’s skills rather than a quest for novelty.