Bagatellen review by Clifford Allen

The debut disc of Lisbon guitarist Luis Lopes continues in the Clean Feed tradition of Portuguese-American freebop combos, something that is fast becoming a hallmark of the label’s aesthetic. Lopes is joined by tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, a fast-rising star of European improvisation, and the rhythm team of bassist Aaron Gonzalez and drummer Stefan Gonzalez, sons of Dallas-based trumpeter Dennis who has already ensconced himself in the Lisbon scene. It’s ambitious for a leader debut to be a program entirely original tunes, even in a seemingly post-everything milieu such as we have today, but the guitarist’s written lines acquit themselves well, not least of which because of the chosen supporting cast.
It’s apt that the brothers Gonzalez were chosen as the rhythm team – after all, Lopes has a rock pedigree (whatever that means anymore), which fits well with the punk-weaned pair of Yells At Eels fame. Their “rock” rhythms are dissective, acoustic tides on the parallel slink of the opening “Cristadingo,” a brilliant minor-key call of gruff tenor and gauzy plectra bells. As Amado digs in his heels, the band becomes a power trio, Lopes laying out as a plastic three-way volley is tossed. If Amado is a searcher in the keening vein of a saxophone preacher, the muted, behind-the-beat and wholly introspective worrying plucks and dissociative blues that the guitarist spins out is of a different quest altogether. They’re both inward, but by nature Lopes is far less exuberant than Amado – McLaughlin and Ray Russell he is not. Rather, he appears like a ghostly Moorish apparition in the middle of a blues-rock solo as minimalist arpeggios appear, only to be broken into long-legged chunks and faded away. Alternately, the grungy slabs he churns out in agitated drops nearly suspends time on “4 Small Steps.” Rarely does he comp behind the soloist as would a traditional guitarist; if he doesn’t lay out completely, swirls of subtle feedback accent Amado’s tenor, as on “Paso,” drawing out the reedman’s phrases into, alternately, long tones or the contrast of sputtering staccato. Of course, it’s never that simple – there’s a constant give and take, a constant play of form between smooth and sharp, long and short, a constellation that’s always in motion. “Big Love” is an homage to Joe Giardullo, a line that would sound interesting translated to it’s dedicatee’s sinewy unaccompanied soprano, but with Amado in charge of solo duties, it’s a series of muscular, brusque blats and lofty false-fingering. It’s a curious thing that Lopes doesn’t always choose to solo on his compositions, that he takes a backseat to democracy, and at times I wished for more obvious solo entreaties despite his surreal presence being felt. By virtue of his compositions and the tack he takes when he’s in the spotlight, unaccompanied Luis Lopes would be a treat. But he’s brought heavy company, and this is an intriguing and meaty debut.

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