Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hugo Carvalhais...WOW!

Hugo Carvalhais (double bass, electronics; b. 1978)
Nebulosa (Clean Feed Records, 2010)
Gabriel Pinto (piano)
Mario Costa (drums)
Tim Berne (sax)

You know those situations where you are about two songs in and you know this album is going to be amazing before the second song is even finished playing? Well, I've been having that moment every since I put Nebulosa (Clean Feed) into the CD player. Hugo Carvalhais' debut as leader is really phenomenal. The compositions have a depth and electricity that captures your attention immediately. All this from a musician who is self taught on double bass.

The use of electronics are integral to the compositions but are delicate and never overwhelming to the structure of the tunes. The electronic element gives the album an atmospheric nature built inside of acoustic improvisation that the group delivers, especially on "Nebulosa I." "Nebulosa I" has some wonderful moments presented by Pinto on synths sounding like Herbie Hancock circa Headhunters, and some excellent exploratory phrasing by guest member, Tim Berne. Carvalhais adds subtle touches in background like a young Miroslav Vitous or Eberhard Weber. Carvalhais and Costa increase the pressure as the group hits a beautiful piece of cacophony towards the end.

On "Impala" Pinto and Carvalhais share some interplay and utilize space to maximize effect. The overall impact is emotional but its masked wonderfully in an appropriate amount of lyricism on Carvalhais' part. And while there is a lot of experimentation going on throughout Nebulosa, there is a definitely a large dose of structure as well. This is crystallized on "Nebulosa III" and "Cobalto", where the group stay in traditional format and pace with the exception of one member crafting designs along the edges. Costa stretches broadly on "Cobalto" while Berne has well a constructed explosion of sound after what is essential a Pinto solo piano piece on "Nebulosa III."

The beauty of the closing number "Redemption" while short, is probably the perfect ending to an enlightening journey. A melodic piece that for me has shades of David Sylvian's instrumental work. The trio is measured but glorious in its directness. A really transcendent piece.

Hugo Carvalhais wrote all the material and surrounded himself with a supremely talented pair of musicians in Pinto and Costa. Berne's addition only adds an extra dose of excellence. Nebulosa is a masterful debut from a trio that I hope is around for long time. I'm still trying to figure out why I didn't pick up this record last year. It would have easily been in my top ten albums of the year. But anyway, it's on constant play now. Hope you have a chance to pick it up too.

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