Sep 21 2015
This album’s drunken personality is positively charismatic. This is music where cadence comes about woozily and just inches from stumbling to the ground and where harmonies flirt with going out of synch and maybe off the hinges, too, and yet each time it feels like it’s all going to come toppling over, João Lencastre’s Communion ensemble lets loose the most enchanting melodic statement, and between its riveting beauty and succinct coherency, the mere existence of this lyrical statement brings the song back into balance with the sense that everything was under control all along. That is what you get on What Is This All About?
The ensemble comes charging right out of the gate on “View Over the Palace,” spurred on by Lencastre’s drums. And while the shout to the skies melodic statements from alto saxophonist David Binney and trumpeter Phil Grenadier will capture the most attention, the tone set right from the start by pianist Jacob Sacks and bassist Thomas Morgan with a series of low, resonant flurries is what immediately ushers the ear in through the door and sits it down for all the wild fun.
“The House of Fun” has an infectious bounce and all kinds of asides and tangential comments from the ensemble, like a series of stream-of-conscious conversations that enter into a confluence for a time before breaking off again. “Kubrick” goes from bold pronouncements to mumbling incoherently under its breath to a patient, ebullient expressiveness that pulls everything together.
“The Game” has an ambient, driving intro right out of a Radiohead tune, then impressively slips into a straight-ahead post-bop passage before coming to a place where both sounds can coexist in harmony. Furthermore, that straight-ahead section was a nice set-up for the jazz arrangement of Brahms’ “Opus 39 N.9,” which has Lencastre kicking up a fury on drums as the backdrop to Jacob Sacks’ thoughtful and patient piano contribution.
The title-track emphasizes the anthemic nature inherent in so many of these tunes. Of particular interest here is the way guitarist André Matos flashes past the slow, proud statements of melody with a series of wind sprints that shade the edges of that melody while simultaneously adding texture to the rhythmic groundwork.
“Lucky River” and “Picture” both straddle the line where off-the-cuff looseness meets post-bop conventionalism. The former track shows how weighting it toward structure is just as effective (and enjoyable) as the latter track’s approach to shaking off the sense of shape and form.
The album ends on a quiet note with “Alma.” It’s a simple tune spoken with a soothing tone, and it shows that the essential lyricism that is the heart of this recording can shine brightly all on its own, like candlelight without a wax stem or enveloping darkness… a sublime, gentle beauty.
This album was released at the tail-end of 2014, after I’d already submitted all my Best of 2014 lists. Had it come out sooner in the year, it would’ve received year-end consideration. Go buy it. It’s a fun, wonderfully expressive recording.
Your album personnel: João Lencastre (drums, prophet synth), David Binney (alto sax), Phil Grenadier (trumpet), Jacob Sacks (piano), André Matos (guitar), Thomas Morgan (double bass) and guests: Sara Serpa (voice), Tiago Bettencourt (voice), Ary (modular synth efx) and Benny Lackner (wurlitzer).
Released November 2014 on Auand Records.
Listen to more of the album at the artist’s Bandcamp page.
Jazz from the Lisbon, Portugal scene.