06 July 2009

Manuel Mota :
patient improviser
Manuel Mota 002
I first heard Manuel Mota’s work through his associations with the amazing trumpet player / composer Sei Miguel – as I began to investigate the guitarist’s own material, I realized rather quickly that I had discovered something very special indeed. There are countless players out there working as experimental improvisers – many of them could be considered masters (Derek Bailey, Keith Rowe, Taku Sugimoto and Fred Frith come to mind…there are of course others), but few have the individualism of sound and originality of spontaneous composition exhibited by Manuel’s body of work. Instead of attempting to impress the listener with lightning-fast flurries of notes, Manuel takes his time, patiently. Unlike someone pounding and chiseling at stone in order to produce an image, he’s more like a woodcarver or an artist who moulds clay, holding his medium in his two hands, searching for the form within. As a result, his work is enveloped in a much more intimate atmosphere – the listener is left with the feeling of being witness to a private act of creation. It’s little wonder that Derek Bailey was so impressed with him.
Manuel Mota -- Sings
Sings (2008)
Manuel seems to literally coax sounds from his instrument – nothing comes across as forced. It’s like making a friend comfortable enough to reveal the thoughts being held inside. If one listens closely enough, melodies begin to make themselves known here and there – not as ‘licks’ stated in a standard manner, but as partners to the overall sound experience. The notes he plays are usually either muffled or cut off, only occasionally ringing further than their first breath – his hands fret, pluck, tap and rub both the strings and the body of the instrument, leaving no territory unexplored in the search for completion of a musical thought. He generally utilizes an electric guitar, but it’s played at an incredibly low volume level, with the minimal amplification being one more tool in the box. On half of the double-disc Outubro he uses an acoustic guitar – the tone is slightly different, naturally, but his approach seems to be similar in intention.
Manuel Mota -- Outubro
Outubro (2006)
Manuel Mota -- Leopardo
Leopardo (2002)
When I saw the title to his latest solo recording, Sings (Headlights, 2008), I had no idea how perfect a description it was. I listened to it only fleetingly for a couple of days, until I had a chance to devote some uninterrupted time to it – I must have played it through completely 3-4 times before I took it off. The music is that captivating. To the casual, ‘in passing’ listener, I can see how this music would seem to be like overhearing a guitarist warming up before a show, or practicing at home – but there’s so much more going on here than that, which anyone who gives this a thorough listening will discover. Completely freed of the constraints of playing ‘songs’ affords Manuel the freedom to gently explore musical paths and translate inner processes and ideas into sound – his constructions are like thoughts made audible, deliberately and without undue haste. Single notes, chords and clusters, strummed, bent and at times literally squeezed out of the guitar combine into a whole that is breathtaking in both originality and its own form of beauty. The results are unique among anything I’ve heard.
Curia (2007)
Balancing the quieter side of Manuel’s music, documented in his solo recordings, are his outings with other players – notably the improvising quartet Curia (Alfonse Simões, drums; David Maranha, Hammond; Manuel Mota, wah guitar; Margarida Garcia, bowed guitar) and the trio Dru (David Maranha, organ; Manuel Mota, electric guitar; Riccardo Dillon Wanke, electric piano). Curia’s music (their selftitled disc released in the US by Fire Museum, 2007), while presented with more volume than the solo discs, is not the assault on the senses that one might expect – these musicians are talented, sensitive improvisers, keenly listening to their co-players ideas as they’re laid out, responding in thoughtful musical conversation that makes the experience interesting and involving from first note to last.
Dru -- L'aiguille du dru  (2008)
L'aiguille du dru (2008)
Dru’s approach is more low-key and subtle – the musical waters here are dark and at times murky, with palpable currents carrying images into range and then out again. The guitar and organ seem to be more ‘in front’ as far as the sound picture goes, but the electric piano is more of an integral part of the mix than might be apparent at first listening – its sound seems to be altered in some way, or perhaps it’s simply being played at such a low volume level, with measured restraint and quietude. One can almost feel the music on L’aiguille du dru (Headlights, 2008) growing like a living organism. Rhythms emerge gently, accented and expanded melodically by each of the instruments in turn and in tandem – a gentle wash of sound, like dipping your hand (or head) into unknown, almost-still waters.
Rodrigues / Mota / Paiuk -- Dorsal
Dorsal (2004)
Manuel Mota -- Quartets
Quartets (2004)
He has been involved in other collaborations as well. I mentioned Sei Miguel already – there’s also Dorsal (Creative Sources, 2003), a recording with Ernesto Rodriguez (viola) and Argentine minimalist Gabriel Paiuk (piano); Quartets (Headlights, 2004), a collection of his compositions performed by Manuel (electric guitar) with Fala Mariam (alto trombone, a constant collaborator with Sei Miguel), Margarida Garcia (a Curia member, here appearing on electric upright bass) and Cèsar Burago (carillon, another Sei Miguel associate, one of the most incredibly inventive percussionists I’ve ever heard), arranged and produced by Sei Miguel. There are other solo recordings that are out of print or extremely hard to find (at least for me here in the US…I’ll keep searching) that I haven’t heard – I doubt seriously that I’ll ever find myself disappointed with anything he’s done, or with any project with which he’s associated.
Manuel Mota 001
Manuel’s releases on his Headlights imprint are available directly and he accepts payment through PayPal, a method I’ve found to be extremely convenient (link to this, as well as to other sources may be found below) – having ordered from him multiple times, I can vouch for fair prices and prompt shipping. Curia is available from Forced Exposure as well as from the US label that issued the disc, Fire Museum. Mimaroglu Music Sales carries quite a few Creative Sources titles – I got Dorsal from them, but checking just now they seem to be out of anything on which Manuel appears (hopefully a temporary thing) – I’ve included a link anyway, just to offer another avenue of exploration. Creative Sources does direct electronic ordering as well, so that’s another option – I have no experience with them, but I’m planning to place an order next payday.

For anyone even remotely interested in improvised music, Manuel’s work is something that should be experienced. His music is constantly reaching for new sound colours and methods of expression, at the same time being intrinsically ‘listenable’, with many moments of exquisite beauty…beauty of a different sort, but beauty indeed. I’ve listened to these discs countless times over the past few months, and I discover new life in them each time – there’s a freshness to them that seems unlikely to fade.

I’ll end with a video of Manuel performing solo at the Where’s the Love festival in Lisboa, May 2006, nicely shot by Nuno Moita…

1 comment:

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