Last week I attended the recent Europe Jazz Conference in Lisbon with my colleague Mary Wakelam Sloan. As well as the conference, there was an extensive showcase for Portuguese jazz groups. I was impressed by the range and quality of these bands, and I’d like to comment on a few of these here.
I had heard the excellent Rite of Trio, a guitar bass drums trio, at the 12 Points Festival the previous week, so in a sense I knew what to expect. I had also heard trumpeter Susana Santos Silva in a number of contexts in the last few years so it was good to hear her own group Impermanence. Their music was an interesting mix of structure and free improvisation.
Perhaps the most impressive band was the Lisbon Underground Music Ensemble (L.U.M.E), a 15-piece ensemble led by pianist and composer Marco Barroso who played a late night gig in the back room of the Livraria Ler Devagar, a bookshop in the club area of the city. The acoustic of the room was difficult for the ensemble’s upbeat music, but nonetheless it came over with a wonderful spirit. I was particularly taken with the trumpet solos of a Jessica Pina who I believe was a dep for one of the regular members of the section.
Also in the Ler Devagar bookshop, but in the main room the Rodrigo Amado Trio impressed with a beautifully paced free set. Amado on tenor saxophone played long flowing lines full of invention, seemingly totally improvised, but very much at the jazz end of the spectrum. The interaction with the bass and drums, Hernani Faustino and Joao Lencastre respectively, was also excellent. Amado has recently issued an album with a group featuring Joe McPhee, Kent Kessler and Chris Corsano and is building a reputation outside Portugal.
I also enjoyed Eduardo Cardinho Trio, an attractive vibes led group and Axes, a sextet with a front line of four saxophones accompanied by two drummers. The latter’s music was a crazy mix of tight ensemble passages and free solos from each of the saxophones, always driven by the antics of the two drummers.
Pedro Melo Alves’s Omniae Ensemble was led by Pedro Alves, the drummer from the Rite of Trio mentioned above and also featured its bass player Filipe Louro. Alves had formed the septet as a result of his winning the Bernardo Sassetti Composition Award and the music was built around intricate and detailed compositions. I enjoyed these, but have to admit that I agreed with colleagues that the music was at times a little too intricate.
Andy Sheppard is now living just outside Lisbon, so can be considered part of the Portuguese scene. He played a set in the main conference centre in the Belem district of Lisbon with a new collaboration with the Norwegian Espen Eriksen Trio. They played a gently mesmeric set mostly at a medium slow tempo with Sheppard’s beautiful tone and phrasing very much to the fore.
I found myself asking where all this excellent music had emerged from. The organisers of the conference and the showcases were at pains to point out that Portugal and its jazz scene are on the edge of Europe and that links with other scenes are limited. This may, in fact, be one of the reasons why the music I heard was so distinctive. It’s a small scene , mostly based around Lisbon and Porto, and seems to be built around a system of collectives. I got the sense that the collectives provide an integration of the scene that has helped its resilience.
Postcript: I recognise that I have commented on just a few bands, and not even all the bands performing at the Europe Jazz Conference.