Photo: Nuno Martins
Anyone who’s been paying attention to the Portuguese avant-jazz scene knows drummer Gabriel Ferrandini‘s name. He’s a member of two excellent groups: the RED Trio with pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro and bassist Hernâni Faustino, and saxophonist Rodrigo Amado‘s Motion Trio, with cellist Miguel Mira. He’s also recorded with Japanese saxophonist Nobuyasu Furuya, Swiss noise artist D’incise, Polish trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz, and American saxophonist Jon Irabagon, among others, all while having just turned 30.
Motion Trio have just released their sixth album (only the second to feature just the core trio—on previous efforts, they’ve invited trumpeter Peter Evans, and trombonist Jeb Bishop, to join them), Desire & Freedom. It features three lengthy tracks that never sound disjointed or aimless, despite being fully improvised. RED Trio put out their second album with British saxophonist Jon Butcher, Summer Skyshift, earlier this year. And Ferrandini is part of two ensembles with albums coming out on the Lithuanian NoBusiness label.
Before the Silence features saxophonist Albert Cirera, pianist Agustí Fernández, and Faustino on bass. It was recorded at the Jazz Cava de Vic in Barcelona, Spain, on May 9, 2015.
Listen to an excerpt from “Before”
Order it from the label
Salão Brazil (available only on limited-edition LP) features John Dikeman on saxophone, Luis Vicente on trumpet, and Hugo Antunes on bass. It was recorded at Salão Brazil in Coimbra, Portugal on January 17, 2016.
Listen to an excerpt from “One for Adam”
Order it from the label
I asked Ferrandini about each of these records, about the state of the Portuguese jazz/improv scene, and about his approach to the drums and free music generally.
How did the groups on Before the Silence and Salão Brazil come together? Are these musicians you play with regularly?
Me and Hernâni Faustino were playing some sessions and small club gigs with Albert in the trio format. Finally Cirera booked us a cool concert in a festival near Barcelona, adding Agustí to form a quartet. It was a first-timer and we had a good kick. We’ve never played ever since. Hoping the future can put us back together again.
The group on Salão Brazil was formed by Luis Vicente. it was a small Portuguese tour. The LP is the last gig of the tour, we were happy with it. We never played together before and have not been together since…
Was there any discussion beforehand, or was the music entirely improvised?
Completely improvised. I was even a bit nervous to play with such a master as Agustí, but his sense of humor and clarity while playing really helped for everything to flow as smooth as possible. Sometimes no words are needed (sometimes).
As a non-musician, I am curious what you see as your role when in a full improv situation—who are you listening to and responding to? Do you focus on one particular group member, and leave the other person or people to find their own way, or do you try to provide a foundation for the others?
It’s quite complex and fast-shifting. I feel it’s various “spaces” I’m in while playing: There is the one where I move as a drummer and try to provide for the band and to be as much of a team player as I can be, helping the band sound tighter and gluing things together. While doing that, I have to respond to whoever is soloing or is playing a strong idea that must or should be accented by me, making the solo or the musical idea stronger and more coherent. I was taught once that every musician, especially the drummer, “should make the others sound better”—this really makes sense and brings whatever is great that’s happening in a moment to flourish more into the light. This is where I respond more directly to one musician, but I must try to not to forget about the band; that foundation can’t break. And there is still a space in the middle of all of this that should be my voice, my ideas, my problems. What do I want to say as a musician and artist, and not only as a drummer, filling up those drummer positions. In all the dynamics of a band and a concert, I should still make my own statement as a human.
Rodrigo told me he thinks you are always trying to avoid clichés in your playing. Is there ever a time when a simple swing beat is what the music requires, though?
I don’t want to avoid clichés. I just don’t want to put them in my vocabulary—it’s still quite different? A simple swing beat has been done and for its own reasons. Time has gone on and what I really feel is that I do swing, and more and more, just not in an old-fashioned/mainstream way. Swing can go till wherever we can imagine. I’m looking for my own swing, but this swing of mine of course comes from the old one. Maybe we can see the past as recognition, so the present would be in a way “attention,” making the future something more speculative: “expecting!” So what I mean with this is that I think a lot about the past (a problem sometimes) and I hear and dedicate a lot of my time to that past, that swing, but I should be aware of the present and bring something to the game that can make the future more interesting. Still: simple is one of the best and hardest things to do.
Your playing reminds me of Tony Oxley’s work with Cecil Taylor, particularly on Before the Silence. Instead of asking about influences, I will ask this: Who are your favorite drummers, and who have you stolen the most from?
Tony is for sure one of the masters. Especially that sound…I love his work with Cecil, he surely influenced me a lot. Hope it’s not silly to divide the drummers how I will, but I see that I have my old American spirits and the more modern, almost all European drummer heroes. From the old days of course there are so many of them, but at the end it probably ends up with early Tony Williams (till ’69) and Elvin. The drummer I have studied the most was Elvin Jones. He is the one I got obsessed with over and over again. There are more, but who really got to me, it was them. In more recent times: Tony Oxley, Paul Lovens, and Paul Lytton are on the top of the master game. Samurai skills! I usually hear a lot of them during my daily life. Love the bands and the sound, they really opened a lot of space. At this point I would have to say two “younger” guys: Paal Nilssen-Love and Chris Corsano. If the older masters gave me ground, showing me how to move in music, jazz and in the instrument in a pure way in a more purer enviroment (acoustic music), these two younger musicians showed me how to think in more modern ways, not only in concrete or abstract dual options, but in a wider form of agglomeration of styles to incoporate in one’s own language. I take from all of them, and hope I can give back one day. There are still a lot of other drummers I love: Alan Dawson; Sunny Murray; Pete La Roca; Shelly Manne; Wilson das Neves; Han Bennink…
I feel like there are broad national characteristics within improvised music: US free musicians have a unique approach, Norwegians play in a certain way, British improvisers do a certain thing, Japanese players do something different—do you think there is a common spirit among Portuguese improv musicians that manifests in specific stylistic approaches, and what is it?
Yes, for sure, something is developing in its own way here. We are not that many, but still some! One of the reasons for a different sound here is because we are in a way, quite far from Europe and an urban interchange doesn’t happen that much. Makes us look more at each other. We are quite closed in mechanical ways—we do hear all of what happens, but we don’t have as much access to foreign/new/touring musicians, or a lot of clubs going on. Some guys tour but it’s not like central Europe. We have the Atlantic on one side and Spain on the other. Another reason is jazz got here quite late in comparison with other European countries, especially the academic teaching, I think they only started around the late ’80s. Clean Feed really helped as well, pushing us and bringing new sounds to the scene. But above all, we want to do something that is ours, different, unique. Portugal has its own swing and we are trying to develop it. We have the geographical space and the loose history. Some masters started that: Sei Miguel (still is, but is around for quite a long time) and Jorge Lima Barreto. But today it’s up to us to make our sound and and objective clear to the world.