FRAGIL GIGANTE / SAIZ: Elwha. X. Nena. Saku. L. MARTINEZ: Responso. Bloque No. 1. B. MARTINEZ: Bradada. Freaks. Nana / Juan Saiz, fl/pic/t-sax/s-sax; Baldo Martinez, bs; Lucia Martinez, dm/toys / Leo Records LR 889
This fascinating Spanish trio plays here, as the promo sheet states, “free jazz tunes you can sing.” What it doesn’t say is if drummer Lucia Martinez is bassist Baldo Martinez’ sister or daughter, but to judge by Baldo’s white hair and Lucia’s relatively youthful looks, I would guess the latter. Flautist-saxist Juan Saiz is along for the ride.
As for the CD itself, there are no liner notes other than the following quote from Antonio Vega: “I’m scared of the vastness, where no one can hear my voice.” The CD starts out with Saiz blowing breathily into his flute along the edge of the mouthpiece before playing a short but attractive melody out of tempo. The bass joins him on the repeat, playing partly in unison but mostly in harmony or counterpoint to his tune; then the drums enter, a bit quietly at first, and we’re off. Baldo takes over when Juan stops playing with an a cpapella solo of great richness. He swings, but again out of tempo. There’s an eerie forlorn quality about it; it is far from happy-sounding Spanish music, but neither is it conventionally sad in a lachrymose way. When the drums re-enter they are much busier, quadrupling the tempo as the flute and bass flitter around them.
I’d have a difficult time convincing anyone that the motif around which X is built is a tune you can sing; on the contrary, this is a splintered collection of fragments played on the tenor sax and reminiscent of Ivo Perelman. Lucia’s drums dominate this track, pushing and splitting up the beat simultaneously. Welcome to chaos. Then the tempo slows down and some odd breathy sounds (probably not the flute, but possibly some percussion instrument played softly) is heard in the background. The flute then returns to play a more conventional melody which simply cuts off for the ending.
One of the strange things about this album is that I got the definite feeling, by the beginning of track 3 (Responso by Lucia Martinez), that the pieces herein actually form a sort of suite. Whether intentional or unintentional, the mood(s) of each piece, as well as the musical material itself, seem to complement and continue what has gone before without repeating anything. Here, however, Lucia gets a drum solo, and a very fine one it is, too, swinging in its own irregular-meter way. This piece, too, really doesn’t have that much tunefulness about it other than a lick by the flute in the middle; on the contrary, I was puzzled as to how much or how little of it was really “composed” beforehand. It’s certainly creative, however, and in the latter part of this piece the tempo increases to the point of mania as the flute, bowed bass and drums all explode simultaneously in an orgy of sound, though it quiets down at the end.
Bloque No. 1, which follows immediately, begins with an explosion but quiets down fairly soon. Saiz then holds some high piccolo notes while Lucia plays a wild drum solo and Baldo tosses in some repeated low bass notes. But does a verbal description really convey what is going on here? So much of what you hear is sound-centric, and words really cannot convey sounds to a reader when they are as diverse and ever-changing as the ones on this album. I could continue to give moment-by-moment descriptions of what goes on in these tracks, but they probably wouldn’t make much sense to anyone who isn’t listening to them, as this is not normally music in the conventional sense of the term. The diverse sounds, motifs and melodic fragments used, and the ever-changing sonic landscape of tempo and sonority need to be heard to be appreciated. Telling you about it is like trying to describe the explosion of a very complex set of fireworks.
I will only say that the flute and piccolo dominate this album; the tenor and soprano sax only make brief appearances (the latter is heard on Freaks). Dynamics are also an important component of what this trio does, as are tempo and meter, and all three fluctuate so often and sometimes so rapidly that, again, the ear is quicker than the word processor. Sometimes the music is indeed lyrical, but most of the time it is not. It is frequently, but not often, fragmented, split into asymmetric cells, some of which overlap and some of which juxtapose one another. The best way I can describe it is as the musical equivalent of a modern art painting that one can “follow” across the canvas from left to right (or top to bottom, depending on how you’re looking at it). Yet the music is not quite as split up as that of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, probably the forerunner of most avant-garde jazz groups.
Suffice it to say that Frágil Gigante is not passive listening. It requires all of your attention, though that attention will be well rewarded. But you do need to check your preconceptions of musical structure in at the door before entering. This is an interactive listening experience.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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