I’ve only become aware of Portuguese saxophonist Rodrigo Amado‘s work in the last year or two, but the more I hear him play, the more I like him. This is one of two CDs he sent me last month; it features cornetist and flugelhorn player Taylor Ho Bynum, bassist John Hébert and drummer Gerald Cleaver. The other disc Amado sent me is Motion Trio, which features cellist Miguel Mira and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini. That’s on the European Echoes label, which released his album The Abstract Truth (with bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love) in 2009.

Although Amado works with different personnel almost every time he records, his albums don’t feel thrown together or ad hoc. He’s clearly after a very specific thing when he enters the studio, and brings together the personnel necessary to free the sound trapped in his head. In this case, the rhythm section—Hébert and Cleaver—have a history together; they worked on the bassist’s Spiritual Lover album, which I reviewed here back in May. The sound they had then was like a cross between ’70s fusion and prog rock, with Cleaver attacking his toms as Hébert throbbed wildly. This time out, there’s none of that fervor, and a much more organic feel. When he’s not playing with brushes, the drummer sounds like he’s slapping the skins with open palms instead of sticks. It’s a dry, but extraordinarily human sound, and Hébert’s bass playing is both keenly attuned to what Cleaver’s doing and fully in the moment, every note seemingly predestined but also pregnant with possibility.

As far as the front line’s concerned…well, that’s something else again. Amado’s playing has a lot of buzzing bottom; he switches between tenor and baritone on this disc, and in so doing reminds me of Mats Gustafsson without the wannabe Steve Mackay/garage-rock crudity. When he’s playing free-ish post-bop lines, things are great. The quartet turns into a kind of post-Ornette, post-Blue Note class of ’64 master class in adventurous blues blowing.

Bynum, on the other hand, ranges over a much broader territory with his horn, and consequently (to my ear, anyway) fails as often as he succeeds. Through his extensive work with Anthony Braxton and the late Bill Dixon, and in countless other contexts, he’s proven himself to be a rigorously intellectual player who thinks about the horn from seven or eight more angles than your average trumpeter, let alone your average jazz fan. But the sputtering, squeaking “extended technique” improv stuff he does has never given me much joy (only Dixon ever did it in a way that satisfied me as a listener), and when he goes in that direction here, it’s to the detriment of the overall group sound. Fortunately, there are many other passages where his playing is fleet and Don Cherry-esque, meshing terrifically with what everyone else is doing without resorting to cliché.

Searching for Adam presents examples of these four musicians interacting at various speeds, from headlong swing to mournful free balladry, and allows each to demonstrate almost every trick in his bag. Pieces range from under three minutes in length to over twenty, and while it’s clear that the music is collectively improvised, it has enough cohesion (except during the marathon “Waiting for Andy,” which meanders and repeatedly loses momentum, but always manages to recover it again) to preserve the feeling of being jazz, rather than improv with a capital I. Fans of Rodrigo Amado will definitely enjoy it, and since there aren’t nearly enough of those yet, newcomers to his music should check it out, too.

Phil Freeman

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