Improvisation from Barcelona: Agusti Fernandez and Octante
Albums by pianist Agusti Fernandez and the group Octante (as well as the concurrent release of Barcelona Chronicles by guitarist Derek Bailey) provide a timely opportunity to celebrate the dynamic improvised music scene of Barcelona, Spain. The profile of the city's improvisers has steadily grown in recent years, not least because of the work of IBA (Improvisers of Barcelona Association), a collective of improvising musicians and dancers, which organises concerts around the city, often in private homes. The work of IBA has attracted many improvisers from other countries to Barcelona to play with its members.
Un llamp que no s'acaba mai
Agusti Fernandez was one of the founders of IBA in 1995 and he is probably the city's most prolific and recognised improviser, having recorded with such musicians as Bailey, John Butcher, Marilyn Crispell, Barry Guy, Peter Kowald, Evan Parker, William Parker and Mats Gustafsson, with whom he recorded his previous release on Psi, Critical Mass (2005.)
Un llamp que no s'acaba mai was recorded in concert at Ermita de San Roque, Siguenza, Spain, in December 2007. Although indexed as four tracks, the music is from one continuous performance. Fernandez is joined by John Edwards on bass and Mark Sanders on drums, a pairing with a long and distinguished history together. This combination emphasises Fernandez's well-established links with the London improv scene. The threesome combine well, sounding comfortable and natural together.
As on Critical Mass, Fernandez's playing is full of contrasts. Beginning slowly and tentatively, he picks out lines that are clear and deliberate. Edwards responds with delicate bow work, matching the sense of control. Imperceptibly, with no sudden changes, the piano picks up momentum and becomes more energetic. As the deliberate lines become more fractured and impressionistic, during "Secondo," Edwards and Sanders provide tumultuous support. Further ebb and flow ensures that the music is gripping throughout its 47 minutes.
The album title translates as "A lightning that never ends." Spot on.
Octante features IBA stalwarts trumpeter Ruth Barberan, accordionist Alfredo Costa Monteiro, and Ferran Fages, a guitarist who now favours electronics. These three have played together in different configurations including as a trio, and know each other well. Here they are joined by Portuguese double bassist Margarida Garcia, maybe best known for her collaborations with Manuel Mota. The musicians produce a variety of sounds using various means; distinguishing individual contributions is not easy. Acoustic and electronic sounds ebb and flow creating a shifting, kaleidoscopic soundscape.
The album consists of two tracks, each just under half an hour. They present contrasting sides of the quartet's playing. The first, "Onda 2856," is relatively subdued and evolves slowly, with Garcia's bowed bass providing a highly satisfying underpinning drone. The second, "Onda 2904," is more garrulous and dramatic. Barberan's trumpet is distinguishable and is central throughout; she favours mournful sustained notes which colour the music around her.
It is debatable whether there is any identifiable Iberian sensibility that imbues this music. Be that as it may, running through the music is a sense of melancholy that is affecting and pleasurable in equal measures. It is to be hoped that this fine album serves to further raise the profile of these musicians and of Barcelona itself.
Tracks and Personnel
Un llamp que no s'acaba mai
Tracks: Primo; Secondo; Tertio; Quarto.
Personnel: Agusti Fernandez: piano; John Edwards: double bass; Mark Sanders: drums.
Tracks: Onda 2856; Onda 2904.
Personnel: Ruth Barberan: trumpet, speaker and microphones; Alfredo Costa Monteiro: accordion and objects; Ferran Fages: oscillators and pick ups; Margarida Garcia: electric double bass.