The Wire review by Dan Warburton


Sei Miguel – Esfingico (CF 170)
Sei Miguel albums often come adorned with a little drawing of his pocket trumpet that inevitably recalls the sinister muted posthorn in Thomas Pynchon’s Crying Of Lot 49, but one doesn’t have to be a fan of that reclusive author to suspect that a system every bit as all-encompassing and mysterious as Pynchon’s Trystero organisation lies behind the music the 49-year-old trumpeter has been making for over two decades now. Miguel alumni such as guitarist Manuel Mota and electronics pioneer Rafael Toral, whose “modulated resonance feedback circuit” adds just the right amount of outer space weirdery to this latest offering, recorded live in April 2006, speak of the man and the intensive commitment he demands of his musicians with nothing short of awe.
Indeed, what’s striking about Miguel’s music is how instantly recognisable it is, and how little it’s changed over the past twenty years. With its sharp, clean lines from the trumpeter – imagine Don Cherry playing Webern – and his partner, alto trombonist Fala Mariam, underpinned by ever so sparse accompaniment from bassist Pedro Lourenço and pinpricks of percussion from César Burago (who’s become as essential to Miguel’s rhythmic concept as Dannie Richmond was to Charles Mingus’s), it was lowercase long before before the term was even coined. But, Toral’s skylab gurgles apart, it has little interest in latterday improv’s extended technique soundworld: in appending the delightfully retro subtitle “Suite for Jazz Combo” to this six-movement composition one senses that Miguel’s tongue is only half in his cheek. There’s always been an element of jazz in his music, implicit rather than explicit: one doesn’t need to play a backbeat to sense its presence – Burago’s understatement is masterly – or clutter up the arrangement with chordal comping to be aware of the subtle harmony underpinning it. Esfingico is discreet and elegant proof that Bill Dixon and Jimmy Giuffre are as important to jazz history as Miles and Coltrane, and illustrates Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s famous dictum “less is more” just as well as anything by Radu Malfatti. And it swings.

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