Portuguese bassist Hugo Antunes wrote all the tunes on this album, his debut for the Clean Feed label, and it’s ferocious. It swings hard, it’s produced beautifully, and the ensemble is empathetic and aggressive at once. It’s a concise statement—six tracks in 44 minutes, including two takes of “Anfra.” The band is interesting; a two-reed front line (Daniele Martini and Toine Thys, the former on tenor saxophone, the latter on tenor and soprano saxes and bass clarinet), Antunes on bass and two drummers, João Lobo and Marek Patrman. (The liner notes don’t indicate which drummer is in the left channel and which the right.)
The music is largely post-Ornette post-bop; Antunes is a powerful bassist, as he’s gotta be if he’s gonna be the only chordal instrument in the whole ensemble. He pulls the strings like a young Charles Mingus; there are multiple passages during which echoes of “Haitian Fight Song” or “II B.S.” seem to drift through. At other times, he strums the bass like a huge guitar, the way Jimmy Garrison used to behind John Coltrane. Meanwhile, the two saxophonists play not just simultaneously, but together, working their way through intricate melody lines and conversing on the fly. The music occasionally drifts into ultra-free improv that sounds like it should have a capital I, but things always wind up back where they belong, in the realm of muscular, swinging jazz. Lobo and Patrman hit hard when that’s what’s called for, and play off each other very well at all times. Their rhythmic dance is easily the most interesting part of many moments here.
There’s not a whole lot to say about an album like this. Strong compositions, well played by a sympathetic and talented ensemble that, despite being assembled for the date (from multiple countries), comes together with a surety and a sense of common purpose that’s just wildly enjoyable to hear. It would be a very good thing indeed if this ensemble continued to work together in the future, both live and in the studio.