‘Hundred Umbrellas’ by José Menezes

Hundred Umbrellas is a project by saxophonist, composer and educator José Menezes inspired by the music of French composer and pianist Erik Satie. The project debuted in 2010 and gathered some of the most creative and respected improvisers in Portugal such as Gonçalo Marques on trumpet, guitarist Mário Delgado, Carlos Barretto on bass, and drummer José Salgueiro. José Menezes kindly provided me with notes on each of the tracks, which I have shown as quotes with my own thoughts on each tune written beneath.

Gnossienne #4’ is a Satie’s composition from 1891. It’s slow dance character, unusual modal relations and exquisite melody made it appealing to an arrangement which includes improvisation (saxophone and guitar) and a whole new part (maybe a “pas de deux”) by trumpet and saxophone just before going back the main theme.

This is a gentle start to the album with repeating motifs, stop break timing, and a delightful melody. The saxophone lines float above the rhythm provided by bass and drums whilst the guitar of Mário Delgado adds a different texture to the overall sound without breaking from the mood of the piece. Gonçalo Marques plays beautifully controlled trumpet lines with an appropriate tone making this a very good opening track to Hundred Unbrellas.

Fils des Étoiles’ (1892) made itself into the project through its (very innovative at the time) use of stacked fourths, the kind of sound jazz would integrate around 60 years later with the famous ‘So What’ voicings or McCoy Tyner comping. This type of stacked 4th texture is beautifully expressed in the guitar intro by Delgado. The arrangement develops from a solemn mood into an afro-cuban groove. Solos by Delgado and Menezes.

Now I do not know what “stacked 4ths” are, but I do like how they are used to open track two. The blend of guitar and trumpet give this number a courtly air, nothing is hurried, and everything has its place until a subtle Afro-Cuban vibe starts to develop. The use of repeated phrases works very well with the muted changes in volume and then the guitar and sax take the tune in an understated change of direction to bring the piece to a close.

Gimnopédie #2’ (1888) / Erik Shakty from a re-harmonization of Satie’s original melody delivered by trumpet and tenor sax the arrangement leads to a complete new composition where only hints of the original melody may be perceived. This takes the shape of an Indian raga (hence the title ‘Erik Shakty’).

Gonçalo Marques blows well on this track with good support from José Menezes on sax. I really enjoyed the way this number developed, the sax and trumpet playing contemporary jazz, the guitar adding a heavier rock like section before the trumpet and sax calm things down. I found this a fascinating track with its distinct raga influenced sound and vibrancy of playing.

Redite’ (from “Trois Morceaux En Forme De Poire”, 1903) belongs to Satie’s cabaret period with its characteristic humorous titles. The reggae-in-three arrangement and its circus ambience is meant to put Satie in dialogue with Rotta or Weil. Solos by alto, trumpet, guitar, and bass leading to an interlude and head out.

Track four has an old style music hall humour to it and the link to Kurt Weil is apparent. This is a composition I could imagine Mike Westbrook or Geoff Eales putting out. Bassist Carlos Barretto gets to play some good solo lines, in fact all the soloists play their part in making this circus cabaret inflected piece work.

Gymnopedie #1’ (1888) is perhaps the most popular of Satie’s compositions. Here it is presented with a large deal of melodic and harmonic transformations and in 5/4 meter losing its original quiet, placid mood.

From the first note listeners will recognize the Satie composition on which this track is based. However, the tune does become something quite different as José mentions above and I very much enjoyed what it became without losing sight of the source material.

The Last Umbrella’ is an original angular line intended as a send-off to a collective improvisation after which Barretto’s solo works as a final statement for the composition and for the record as a whole.

The final, original, track is the freest on the album with its punchy angular styling that holds together well despite the lack of an obvious melody. Carlos Barretto’s strong bass solo accompanied by deft drumming and percussion from José Salgueiro brings this interestingly enjoyable album to a close.

Jazz and classical music can make for good bedfellows when done well and Hundred Umbrellas is an example of how well the melding of the two styles can be. Each of the musicians on this album play their part in creating something so intelligently cohesive. The interaction between José Menezes and Gonçalo Marques (whose tone I thought was superb) is exemplary front line playing with neither dominating the other. The rhythm section was on point throughout with Mário Delgado playing some wonderful guitar lines that blended with and supported the front line with real affinity.

Until I was sent across this album for review consideration, I had not heard of any of the musicians who make up this outfit but from here on in I will follow them with interest. To check them out for yourself just click on Bandcamp where you can hear before you consider adding this album to your collection.

Musicians: José Menezes – soprano, alto and tenor saxophones; Gonçalo Marques – trumpet;

Mário Delgado – electric guitars; Carlos Barretto – bass; José Salgueiro – drums and percussion.

Tracklist: 1. Gnossienne #4. 2. Fils des Étoiles. 3. Gymnopédie #2 / Erik Shakty. 4. Redite (from “Trois Morceaux en Forme de Poire”). 5. Gymnopédie #. 6. The last Umbrella.

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