To understand what a musician’s musician can do with the bass today it is wise to listen to the Portuguese bassist for Oporto, Miguel Ângelo. On Branco, only his first album as leader he has re-defined the bass for musicians in Portugal at least. He has the virtuosity and superior technique to be considered one of the top bassists in Europe and judging by the compositions on this album, he is very possibly en route to becoming a name to reckon with not only in Europe, but once he crosses the pond, in North America as well. Mr. Ângelo has a beautiful sound. His mighty tone is made from fat and round notes that seem to roll off the strings like balls of dark chocolate and are therefore so delicious that you can almost taste them. Although it may not be wise to compare his music to chocolate, his performances are like unique and expensive confection. Even when he’s playing a single note pedal point he is irresistible. With a rather melodic musical voice he dances around root notes when playing the changes. Best of all, his inversions are full of surprise, almost singing, and so dramatic that he turns many aspects of the melody into secret told in the narrative of an exciting stage play. With such dramaturgy involved in his playing even short pieces take on the cloaks of epics, which Miguel Ângelo positioned in the stern of his swart ship like Odysseus leading his men on a beautifully challenging mission.
Miguel Ângelo solos frequently. It is understandable. This is his debut album and he must have his say and what a lot he has to say. He is not garrulous, but his soli are gravity bound when they are not high flying. His microphone is a spectacular piece of work. It is easy to identify, but suffice it to say that his bass is informed with a beautiful and thick, woody sound. He leads from the front of his small ensemble and this makes it easy to slip in front of the band and have his say. The viscous notes simply flow when his fingers skitter across the strings. His intuition is always ahead of him and so his lines are beautifully fluid and contain ideas that are fully formed before the notes are even played. Not that he is predictable; far from it. However the architecture of his soli shape up to be gorgeous edifices and he builds them with the intricacy that is reminiscent of the baroque cathedrals that beautify Lisbon. For this reason it is assumed that he might have acquired the majestic technique from the magisterium of a conservatoire. Not that it is necessary, but to be able to create what he does in his music requires the discipline of one who spends many man-years training and many more hours practicing and this is something he or she might be forced to in the cloisters of the conservatoire.
Mr. Ângelo’s beautiful solo on “Tramal” is only the shape of his jazz to come. Then he opens “Maior” with the gravitas of a master and then sets the tone for his alto saxophonist, Joăo Guimarăes to follow through. The saxophonist might also be worthy of high praise not only for his exquisite technique and gorgeous tone, but also for the fact that he follows where Miguel Ângelo wishes to go in a transcendent manner. In “Já Não Voltas!” a song which is played at a very measured pace. Mr. Guimarăes is sensational and it is he that sets up his bassist-leader for the solo that comes after the saxophonist’s break. The music is played at a pace that is so restrained that it takes all the power of the drummer, Marcos Cavaleiro to hold the line while the bassist and the saxophonist dally almost interminably on the notes of the melody. “Branco” shows another side to the leader, his quite skill for writing epic songs and also for his wonderful con arco playing. It is a measure of the musician that Mr. Ângelo is that he writes not only with such grandeur, but he stretches his soloists to almost breaking point when he challenges them to play his compositions. That they respond—pianist, Joaquim Rodrigues included—with wisdom beyond their years. For this and other reasons this debut is not to be missed. Nor for Mr. Ângelo’s spectacular work, but also for the work of his fine ensemble as well.
Track List: Cem; Tramal; Maior; Carnaval; Voltas?; Já Não Voltas!; Estória; Branco; Tempo.
Personnel: Miguel Ângelo: contrabass; Joăo Guimarăes: alto saxophone; Joaquim Rodrigues: piano, Fender Rhodes; Marcos Cavaleiro: drums.
Label: Carimbo Porta Jazz | Release date: December 2013