Albert Cirera/Hernâni Fustino/Gabriel Ferrandi/Agustí Fernández, Before the Silence, No Business Records NBCD 96

Agustí Fernández, Celebration Ensemble, Fundacja Sluchaj FSR 04/2017

Having passed the venerable age of 60, Barcelona-area-based pianist Agustí Fernández has been fêted for his prominence on the broadening international improvised music scene. It’s a tribute to his sophisticated musical adroitness that his playing partners now range from Parker (William) to Parker (Evan), without causing a fissure in any situation. Like a director of foreign films who makes the transition to mainstream Hollywood fare, the Catalan pianist has been acclaimed for his adaptability. But like partisan film maker who imports foreign expertise and actors to shore up the local industry, Fernández’s home town concerts often include international partners. Besides confirming his playing and compositional talents, these Fernández discs demonstrate that ideal.

Recorded at the Festival Jazz Vic, the four improvisations that make up Before the Silence match the pianist with bassist Hernâni Faustino and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini, two-thirds of Portugal’s Red Trio, and fellow Catalan tenor and soprano saxophonist Albert Cirera. More ambitious, the suite on the other CD, which he created for Barcelona’s celebration of Fernández’s golden jubilee year, not only unrolls over 73 minutes, but also features an ensemble competed by Americans, trumpeter Nate Wooley, cellist Frances-Marie Uitti and guitarist Joe Morris; Argentine alto saxophonist Pablo Ledesma; Swedish baritone saxophonist Mats Gustafsson; Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach; plus local percussionist Núria Andorrà and dancer Sònia Sánchez.

On the Iberian-oriented quartet disc, the bassist and drummer’s long-tested ability to inhabit specific roles alongside mercurial pianists and affiliating with idiosyncratic saxophonist such as John Butcher, Lotte Anker and François Carrier, leave them unperturbed by any unexpected moves from the front-line players. Supple clanks, plucks and reverberations from either or both come into play whenever the saxophonist’s or pianist’s extended technique or irregular timbral construction threatens to disrupt chromatic movements. Long of lines and swift in execution, Cirera’s collection of snorts and sighs are isolated for emotional solos or comingle with Fernández’s keyboard upsurges for heightened vigor. As for the pianist, his dynamic note showers that extent into kinetic glissandi make the perfect linkage to Cirera’s incision-sharp reed bites as on “The”. His harp-like string vibrations and syncopated note shading join with the reedist’s yawns and lows to move other sections into darker, more intense places. Meanwhile the brief concluding “Coda” is mostly piano-aligned, impressionistic and nearly weightless.

“Silence”, which is anything but, reaches a festive climax that is divided among toy-piano-like variations on low-frequency chording and swallowed yaps and slide-whistle-like peeps from the soprano saxophone. Joined by bass and drums, the four quiver into a finale that like an extended dream completes thoughts, while leaving space for further exploration.

Those explorations are possibly realized on Celebration Ensemble as the 10-section suite is picked at and prodded from every angle, as the 10 players treat the music as if it was a patient and they a group of medical students doing their rounds. Initially the tone examination is headed by the string players including Fernández’s inner string plucks, with Uitti’s pointed patterns making the greatest impression. As the spiccato slices move from New music interludes into Free Jazz territory, it’s Gustafsson’s baritone saxophone honking and repressed plunger tones from Wooley that arrive upfront and stay there for most of the suite’s running time.

By “Celebration Part 5” the composition has defined itself as a more generalized contemporary Jazz meditation, with wispy notated music expressions and kinetic New Thing-like sprawls vying in contrapuntal repose for narrative supremacy. It’s a tribute to Fernández’s compositional skill that the subsequent sequences don’t come down on either side, but adapt whatever motifs are needed for originality and motion. Cello and piano interface may move into calming spheres, but concentrated bumps from the percussionists and vocalized screams from the saxophonists make the continuum restless enough in sonic exploration and techniques to avoid formula. Finally, the extended “Celebration Part 10” reaches a crescendo of clenched, crunched and affiliated tones. Fernández, Morris and Uitti use string plucks and pressure to sweep the group into a mass expression of power and passion.

While the unheard presence of dancer Sònia Sánchez on “Encore: and perhaps before that may have added a visual element to the performance, the instrumental polish that wedded high and low energy textures is attributed to Fernández, demonstrating why he has thrived over the past decades. Either the birthday composition or the quartet improvisation or both would make an appropriate present for improvised music followers,

—Ken Waxman

Before the Silence

Track Listing: Before: 1. Before 2. The 3. Silence 4. Coda

Personnel: Albert Cirera (tenor and soprano saxophones); Agustí Fernández (piano); Hernâni Faustino (bass) and Gabriel Ferrandini (drums)

Celebration Ensemble

Track Listing: Celebration: 1. Celebration Part 1 2. Celebration Part 2 3. Celebration Part 3 4. Celebration Part 4 5. Celebration Part 5 6. Celebration Part 6 7. Celebration Part 7 8. Celebration Part 8 Celebration Part 8 9. Celebration Part 9 10. Celebration Part 10 11.Encore

Personnel: Nate Wooley (trumpet); Pablo Ledesma (alto saxophone); Mats Gustafsson (baritone saxophone); Agustí Fernández (piano); Joe Morris (guitar); Frances-Marie Uitti (cello); Ingar Zach, Núria Andorrà (percussion) and Sònia Sánchez (dance)


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