The Squid’s Ear | Rafael Toral – Space Quartet


By Darren Bergstein

Ostensibly, Portuguese musician Rafael Toral is a guitarist, but the term multi-instrumentalist is a far more apt way to describe his exploits, particularly over the past thirteen years or so. Truth be told, he’s hardly picked up a guitar throughout the intervening years; his obsession with space (as in ‘outer’) has resulted in a whole series of interconnected recordings prefixed as such. Concurrently, Toral’s worked something of a jazz orthodoxy into his own methodology for electronic music creation; be it the fine art of electroacoustic appliqué, or the more intuitive climes of improvisation, Toral fully embraces and champions an experimentalist’s mandate as he enthusiastically bends circuits, twiddles knobs, digitally processes, and molts sounds to his own fanciful ends.

This approach bears considerable fruit across the four lengthy pieces comprising Space Quartet, over which Toral and his cohorts spend ample time irritating their acoustic and electronic tools to yield much in the way of sinew, skronk, and substance. At times, Toral’s modular feedback circuits and various other little noisemakers mirror the similar twitchy brushstrokes of Toshimaru Nakamura’s no-input mixing board, auguring a large vocabulary of digital chirrups that both he and synth manipulator Ricardo Webbens audio-mulch into a veritable fistful of knotty pine. Where all of this becomes ‘jazz’ (in all senses, definitions, and permutations of that word) remains solely within the purview of the ‘rhythm’ section.

Acoustic bassist Hugo Antunes and drummer/percussionist João Pais Filipe not only anchor the massed migration of sounds, they provide useful reference points both aesthetically and idiomatically. In fact, when the electronic wow and flutter shift their tonal spurts into the background, Antunes and Filipe rev up; the bassist’s muscular strums on “Coimbra” somehow recall John Wetton’s artful strides on many a King Crimson improv, while together, the duo help to propel the pieces at times into Tony Williams’ Lifetime territory, weaving febrile yet controlled chaos with limbic dexterity and immeasurable hi-octane energy.

Performances aside, it’s easy to admire what Toral has set out to accomplish here, but whether or not he’s made implicit the formation of a ‘new’ music remains questionable. Thorny sounds abound, but the recording isn’t particularly singular — there’s nothing emanating from the speakers that hasn’t been the fundamental component of endless electroacoustic improv sessions, nor is the technique any more innovative or polished. Space Quartet is a competent, often bracing release, characteristic of Toral’s continuing foray into exploratory, intuitive music. No, it’s not groundbreaking, but, well, it doesn’t need to be; it succeeds independently of its ethos, on its own merits.

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