by Ian Mann
March 02, 2016
An intense but rewarding listening experience. His compositions may be complex and have a lot going on, but they are also built on strong melodies which helps to give the music considerable appeal.
(Edition Records EDN 1066)
Andre Fernandes is a Portuguese guitarist and composer who has collaborated with an impressive cast of leading European and American jazz musicians, a list too exhaustive to repeat in full here but including the veteran saxophonist Lee Konitz among the many illustrious names. Fernandes has also been a regular member of the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos which has recorded with Konitz and collaborated with American composers such as Maria Schneider and John Hollenbeck. He has toured regularly as part of Konitz’s nonet and has worked extensively as a member of Portuguese singer Maria Joao’s group.
Although little known in the UK the Lisbon born musician has recorded several albums under his own name and runs his own Tone of a Pitch (T.O.A.P.) record label. “Dream Keeper” represents his first major international release and his involvement with the Oxfordshire based Edition record label should help to bring him to the attention of British jazz audiences. Fernandes first appeared on Edition in 2013 when he guested on two cuts on Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila’s acclaimed “Seven Hills” album.
Tuomarila is part of the truly international quintet that graces this album, lining up alongside Spanish musicians Perico Sambeat (reeds) and Iago Fernandez (drums) plus Argentinian bassist Demian Cabaud. This is a group of musicians that may not be particularly well known in the UK but all have impressive international pedigrees and have recorded extensively either as leaders or sidemen. The core quintet is augmented by a number of guest performers including Paulo Gaspar (bass clarinet), Desiderio Lopez (tenor sax), Goncalo Marques (trumpet & flugelhorn) and Marcelo Araujo (percussion).
The programme on “Dream Keeper” consists of six original tunes by Fernandes plus the title track, actually written by Sambeat. Fernandes’ notes accompanying the press release shed light on the inspirations behind the tunes and make for interesting reading. The music itself is busy and often complex and draws on many sources including jazz, rock and Brazilian music.
The album opens with “Chifre”, a Portuguese word meaning “bull horn”. Fernandes describes the tune as a “strong and determined statement” and speaks of his band adopting a “take no prisoners” attitude to the performance. The piece bristles with energy and includes mercurially incisive solos from Sambeat on soprano sax and the leader on guitar. Tuomarila’s piano solo is rather more measured and there’s a busy but commanding performance from drummer Iago Fernandez. The already impressive group sound is augmented by Gaspar’s bass clarinet.
“Rabbit Hole” juxtaposes harmonic complexity with sunny Brazilian rhythms and finds Fernandes calling upon all of his guest performers. The first solo comes from Sambeat on agile, airy flute and he’s followed by Tuomarila whose lively solo is underpinned by the exotic patter of Araujo’s percussion. Fernandes adopts a softer guitar tone than on the opener but his soloing is still fluent and inventive.
Sambeat also plays flute on the quirky but complex “Snakes and Lizards” where the lightness of his sound is contrasted effectively against the grainy growl of Gaspar’s clarinet. The piece makes use of counterpoint and crossed rhythms and the overall sound is busy and dense with Sambeat switching to his usual horn, the alto sax, to deliver a biting solo. The mood of the piece changes dramatically mid tune with Sambeat switching back to flute while Fernandes delivers a guitar solo of understated elegance.
Fernandes describes “Anti Hero” as having a “really strong clear theme”, this initially delivered by Sambeat on alto. This is then contrasted with “a very open solo section, built around a spare bass line”. Tuomarila is the first to feature here, developing his ideas gradually and eloquently with the support of increasingly busy bass and drums. Throughout the album Fernandes’ guitar tone has had a degree of distortion but there are moments here where he takes things several stages further, sometimes adopting a sound akin to that of a heavily treated electric violin.
“Jack” takes its title from a character in the Tim Burton film “A Nightmare Before Christmas”. Fernandes describes the first half of the tune as depicting Jack’s sad side while the second half, with music based on the chords from the movie soundtrack, sees Jack getting “angry and chaotic”. The gentle introduction with its child like melody featuring soprano sax and bass clarinet (Gaspar again) is almost a kind of ‘chamber jazz’ but Tuomarila’s malicious piano chording soon signals the start of the second part where the promised anger and chaos is expressed via Fernandes’ roaring, rock influenced guitar and Fernandez’s equally powerful and dynamic drumming. It’s a section that has drawn favourable comparisons with King Crimson and indeed there’s much throughout “Dream Keeper” that adventurous rock listeners might find to enjoy.
The album’s lengthiest track, “Abarat”, is named for a group of fictional islands imagined by the author Clive Barker. Like its immediate predecessor it’s a piece comprised of two sections. Fernandes describes the first as being “based on a somewhat ‘elastic’ guitar line with a mysterious vibe to it”. The music develops slowly and fosters an other worldly air from the beginning as Fernades’ guitar meanders gently accompanied by the rustle of Araujo’s percussion, indeed all nine musicians feature on this track at some point. Sambeat initially appears on flute before Fernandes takes the first true solo on guitar, his gently probing ruminations then superseded by a passage of solo double bass from Cabaud which seems to form the bridge into the second “more luminescent” section. Tuomarila then takes over for a flowingly lyrical solo before Sambeat returns on alto sax to solo, then switching back again to flute as the composition resolves itself.
Fernandes describes Sambeat’s title track as having a “dark energy” and there’s an appealing abrasiveness about the intro which pits the leader’s subtly distorted guitar against the composer’s hard edged alto offset by the bustle of Fernandez’s drums. Fernandes and Sambeat continue their sparring throughout the piece, aided and abetted by the rest of the quintet, a process that Fernandes describes as being “a lot of fun”, as indeed it is, albeit in a rather intense kind of way.
As an album “Dream Keeper” is a similarly intense but rewarding listening experience. Fernandes’ compositions may be complex and have a lot going on but they are also built on strong melodies which helps to give his musical considerable across the board appeal. There’s a strong rock element here, some of it reminiscent of the prog era, despite Fernandes’ birth date of 1976. With its rock and fusion elements this is music that is capable of reaching out beyond the usual jazz constituency.
Indeed mainstream jazz fans may be less convinced by Fernandes’ busy, highly detailed music but for all that “Dream Keeper” is first and foremost a jazz record and contains some great solos, mainly from Fernandes, Sambeat and Tuomarila.
Fernandes also impresses as a composer, each of these tracks has an episodic quality and each piece seems to tell its own story. At ten minutes “Abarat” arguably takes a bit too long to get going but the other pieces, all at around the five or six minute mark, make their points concisely and emphatically. Tuomarila’s fans may be disappointed not to hear a little more from him but this is a minor quibble in the context of the album as a whole.
Fernandes is not exactly a new talent but for me he’s been a fresh and exciting discovery. Portugal seems to be rich in imaginative guitarist/composers at the moment with Fernandes’ compatriot Vitor Pereira, currently based in London, the recent subject of a Jazzmann live and album review for his latest release “New World” (F-ire Presents). Let’s hope Edition will be able to bring the similarly talented Andre Fernandes to the UK for a series of live performances.