Stratus cs550









Stratus takes up a similar viola & winds quartet — with trumpet (now João Silva, who had appeared already with Diceros, but hadn't been mentioned here before) substituted for trombone, and then supported by acoustic guitar (Miguel Almeida), "computer" (Carlos Santos) & once again, snare drum (João Valinho). (The other winds are again frequent collaborators Paulo Curado & Bruno Parrinha, also from Backlighting. So there are four musicians in common with Mimus, and Almeida returns from e.g. Xenon, first discussed here in May 2017.) So whereas it often seems to me that Rodrigues' larger ensembles involve considerations of who is available as much as they do specific "scoring" choices — and availability is certainly an important practical part of daily improvisation — this one — actually called Ernesto Rodrigues 7tet, at least on his Bandcamp site — seems to be more consciously & specifically chosen. (Stratus is also rather different from the "Septep" on Meandros e Vertentes, which often involves more of a traditional "free jazz" feel, as discussed here last May, and includes no musicians in common other than Rodrigues himself.) There's thus less of an "ad hoc" sense than one sometimes gets from ensembles such as Suspensão, IKB, VGO, String Theory, etc. — although it should be noted that IKB is explicitly named for a color, and that Suspensão has involved similarly shimmering or watery pastels.... (One might also reference Evan Parker regarding choosing musicians as a method of composition, which does seem to be in full operation here. In this & other senses, composition per se might then be considered "impractical....") As these forgoing comments might already suggest, then, Stratus (likewise) involves close attention to color, in this case, not in a watery vein, but in the open air: Sounds range from eerie tinkling & harmonic glissandi to deep rumbles & percussive horn pops, distant traffic, even fugal textures, with shifting timbres working into a broad tapestry of often translucent color. It's sometimes hissing or searing, often quiet, yet generally bright: There is thus little in common with the dark ambience of e.g. Sîn, which suggests more of a "close up" orientation than the broad & shifting perspectives of Stratus.... Moreover, sonorities & timbres often seem to move past each other in layers, not only yielding kaleidoscopic combinations, but a kind of textured smoothness that makes for a very different tapestry than that of e.g. Coluro, with its aggressively distinct timbral counterpoint. (One might also compare to the first, sky-themed track of Selon le vent, as discussed here earlier this month... there's something of a similar feel, there with a smaller ensemble.) It's also easy to hear Stratus as an acoustic album, despite the mysterious presence of Santos, who is (again) presumably making sure that everything is audible, perhaps sustaining some lines.... The result doesn't sound like "jazz" at all, but does project a subtly uplifting quality: Stratus can seem like background music at times, but there's a latent power that comes through consistently, at least for me. And as the extended opening might suggest, it's also an album that I spent some time with, at least as compared with my usual practice of giving early impressions here: Part of that was the timing over the new year, but part of it was some ambivalent impressions on my part, and returning to the album in some very random moments. (And "randomness" can be an important part of appraising "use....") It might be subdued — at least much of the time — but it's been consistently effective, and with a wonderful variety of texture & color that is distinctly its own. Perhaps between this milestone and the many "digital" releases appearing recently to document an even wider variety of interactions (via Bandcamp), Rodrigues has reached a new plateau in his career — and just as he'll turn 60 this year. Todd McComb's Jazz Thoughts