João Almeida is a trumpeter from Lisbon, Portugal. He’s not even 25 yet, but he shows terrific promise already. As a student, he has worked with a broad range of forward-looking musicians from Portugal and beyond, including Peter Evans, Rodrigo Amado, Gabriel Ferrandini, Hernâni Faustino, Susana Santos Silva, Fred Lonberg-Holm, and many others.
Almeida released four albums in 2020. The first, Solo Sessions *||||, is exactly what its title suggests. It consists of eight pieces ranging in length from 1:47 (“Membrane”) to 9:29 (“Train”). Some feel like a single idea explored until it has given up every last shred of its potential; others are journeys that begin in one place and end in another. At one point in “Stuck” he creates two tones at once, the more subtle of which is a low rumble existing just underneath the long, repetitive but frantically energetic cyles of notes that are the heart of the piece.
Almeida’s next two releases were far away from the realm of improvised music. Static I and II are ambient works with no trumpet content at all. The first uses overlapping field recordings, captured during a late-night walk and run through multiple EQs and time-stretching software, to create a single 30-minute piece that’s somewhere between Mick Harris‘s work as Lull and the drone of someone running a large machine on the other side of a brick wall. It rumbles and vibrates, pitching up and down subtly like it’s shifting gears, and occasionally seems like it’s speeding up or slowing down, but its essentially arrhythmic nature makes any sense of motion purely the creation of the listener’s mind. The two pieces on Static II were created with software intended to emulate a modular synthesizer. The first movement starts off with hums and dripping sounds and subtle, almost subsonic drones, like the beginning of a track by Herbie Hancock‘s Mwandishi band before the primary instrumentalists come in, when it’s still Hancock and Patrick Gleeson creating atmospheres. Around the five-minute mark, though, things go awry and it begins to get noisier and noisier until it’s almost Merzbow-ish; later, high-volume organ-like chords zap and sear like a 1970s horror movie soundtrack.
Almeida’s final release of his first year of public activity is almost traditional, though the tradition is the supposedly iconoclastic one of non-idiomatic free improvisation. It’s a live recording from March 5, 2020, only 10 days before most of the world went into COVID-19 lockdown, featuring Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics and João Lopes Pereira on drums. Lonberg-Holm distorts his cello to the point that it sounds like both a bass and an electric guitar at once; sometimes it sounds like he’s stretching giant rubber bands over the mouth of a steel barrel, with the whole junkyard assemblage mic’ed and swathed in echo and reverb. Almeida’s horn sound is clean and very dry. He occasionally rises to a passionate cry, but mostly grows and murmurs to himself, emitting long strings of notes and sometimes devolving into a gritty squall. Pereira’s drumming is post-rhythmic, with only a suggestion of timekeeping found in the way he sets up repeated small explosions.
Listening to all four of these releases (though honestly, you could skip Static I), a picture emerges of a highly creative musician with a promising future in a scene that can always use new blood. João Almeida is someone to watch for, and listen to.
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