Bagatellen

These two recordings share at least one thing in common aside from the presence of Rafael Toral. Both musicians, [Sei] Miguel and Toral, are attempting to extend the improvising tradition from its current state (taomud, if you will) and, perhaps paradoxically, both are using explicitly jazz-derived approaches to do so. Whether this experiment will ultimately prove quixotic only time will tell but both discs offer some amount of tantalization, enough to merit a serious listen or three. "For a new endeavor I needed new information, and I discovered that the field of knowledge in music that I had most to learn from was jazz. There is a long line of connections and fusions between jazz and electronic music, and I envisioned that a step beyond would not be more jazz with electronics, but on electronics." Hence, “Space”, Rafael Toral’s latest project and, indeed, quite a bit different than what one might have expected. You can hear the jazz allusions fairly early on, especially the scattershot, often electronically enhanced trumpet (there’s a lot of trumpet) and the dreamy electric keyboards. This is overtly gestural music, a far remove from recordings like “Aeriola Frequency”. Depending on one’s frame of reference, some of the actual *sounds* employed could try one’s patience. Personally, what I think of as the “Star Wars ray gun effects”, that liquid-y zap sound or variants thereof which surface with some frequency here, are a lot for me to get past. But forging on, you arrive in an area that bears a bit of a resemblance to Milesian electronic music, albeit without the funk. This perception is certainly helped not only by the trumpet’s presence but also by what seems to be an electric piano, one that conjures up Corea at his fluffiest. Maybe if you took one of those Miles interludes, those spacey sections between themes, and stretched it out, taffy-like, you’d approximate this music. Just when you think matters might become excessively smooth, Toral pulls back from the edge for a small dose of rough static though the overall course of his ideas inevitably circles back to decidedly more manually articulated events. The keyboard might take on a dancing, marimba-like character even as the trumpet sputters out white-noise sprays; flute-y, birdcalls flit through synth chords that Sun Ra at his cheesiest might eschew. The mix can prove uneasy to your average eai listener, as things never unravel along any of the pathways you expect, generally drifting back into tonality. Even at its most abstract, we’re still in something approximating Bill Dixon territory (though Sei Miguel is closer as far as that goes). But when things gel—and the music does cohere miraculously and unexpectedly at numerous points even if it meanders more than one would like—you begin to get at least a glimmer of what, I think, Toral is working toward. The lovely, overdubbed trumpet chorale during the third and final track is both beautiful in and of itself and striking in context. And at the very end you hear a cascade of sputtering static pops which, if I’m not mistaken, actually have their origin in the trumpet; what you first hear as random electronics, you have to reevaluate as gesture-driven, a nice little conundrum. Whether he ultimately reaches the promised land or not is an open question—even at its best I don’t see “Space” as being *the* answer by any means—but enough of the disc is challenging in a rarely heard way to make it worthwhile charting his journey.
Brian Olewnick