Sara Serpa - Close Up

Label: Clean Feed, 2018

Personnel - Sara Serpa: vocals; Ingrid Laubrock: tenor and soprano saxophone; Erik Friedlander: cello.


The incomparable Portuguese vocalist/composer Sara Serpa remains faithful to her own musical signature, receiving universal acclaim with recent projects such as Sara Serpa’s Recognition (with harpist Zeena Parkins and saxophonist Mark Turner), Serpa/Matos duo, and now this fantastic new trio, whose first album, Close Up, is the subject of this review. Whether creating textural consonance or embarking on precise contrapuntal effects, the work of German-born saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and American cellist Erik Friedlander coexists beautifully and pacifically with Serpa’s flawless phrasing and multi-sensitive tone.

Like in some past works, this album includes many references to literature, a deep-rooted passion now extended to film, with Abbas Kiarostami’s 1990 masterpiece Close-Up surfacing as an extra inspiration.
Object” shows the threesome dancing in different ways, using distinct cadences yet perfectly integrated as a group. Brief cello slashes provide a thin tapestry for both Serpa’s lyrical buoyancy and Laubrock’s world music-inspired inflections on the soprano. The vocalist perambulates since the moment that sax and cello agree on standing side-by-side, anticipating a grand finale delivered in unison.

Quiet Riot” is clearly hooked on Serpa’s style. Elegant parallel motions and counterpoints, phrase complementations, and Laubrock’s soprano knottiness over the groovy bends and swift drives imposed by Friedlander. These bright moments make you want to go back and re-listen to them again.

Exhibiting multiple ostinatos and the words of the Portuguese poet Ruy Bello, “Pássaros”, is a furtive chamber-jazz effort with a well-defined identity. Still, it couldn't match the irresistible enunciation of “The Future”, a poignant, unswerving song awaken by a continuously reiterated sax-vox pointillism and cello wails. Inspired by Virginia Woolf, the song merges light and darkness in genial moments of metrical defiance. This is naked music where the words mean highly focused sounds.

Friedlander’s seductive fingerstyle drives “Sol Enganador”, a meditative cinematic odyssey where Godard’s philosophical freedom gets in touch with a Fellini-esque flamboyance. Laubrock’s air blows, percussive and invasive at the same time, end up falling into short, feverish phrases that contrast with Serpa’s syllabic patterns, sparsely laid down with an infallible precision.

Floating like a breezy folk song, “Woman” was devised with a sort of angelic flair and erudite expressiveness, meaning that the spirit of Luce Irigaray, who inspired the composition, was properly captured and relocated into the music.

The album closes with “Cantar Ao Fim”, a spellbinding piece with a strong connection to nature, whose freedom erupts from all the pores of its smooth skin. The natural, impromptu vocal chant that inaugurates this piece is followed by a blossoming groove that pushes us into a rapturous sonic orb.

Composition-wise, Serpa is ahead of the curve, establishing her ideas with one foot on the avant-garde and the other on the new music. Categorization can be a difficult task, but what’s really relevant here is that Close Up guarantees an arresting affirmation of her artistic maturity.

       Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
03 - Sol Enganador ► 04 - The Future ► 09 - Cantar Ao Fim