There seem to be damn few well-kept secrets in the improv world anymore, but Portuguese trumpet phenom Sei Miguel seems to be one. After three decades of tenaciously pursing a personal vision blending jazz sonorities and phrasing, electroacoustics, and compositional forms for improvisation (parallels can be drawn between his work and Leo Smith's in this area), he's still relatively unknown. It doesn't help that most of his back catalog is on tiny-run Portuguese labels and pretty much impossible to find. The 2006 release Tone Gardens on Creative Sources ought to have provided a bit more visibility – that spectacular live quartet outing from 2004 with Miguel, partner Fala Mariam on trombone, Rafael Toral on electronics, and Cesár Burago on percussion presented a singular intersection of floating, lyrical line, subtle electronics, and textural abstraction – but for some reason never quite got the attention it should have.
For Esfíngico, recorded live in 2006, Miguel has assembled the same quartet, with the addition of bass guitarist Pedro Lourenço, for another set of scored improvisational inventions. The trumpeter is unabashed about his allegiance to jazz, and while the sub-title of this release ("Suite for a Jazz Combo") may not leap out as an obvious choice, it provides the conceptual underpinnings for both how he approaches structure and how the group itself approaches improvisation. Miguel has transposed the small jazz ensemble, placing his clarion tone and the warm musings of Mariam's trombone against the coloristic scribbles and sound blocks of Toral's modulated resonance feedback circuit, while the simmering patterns and pointillistic plucked daubs of bottom end from Lourenço are nicely paired with the spatters of texture from Burago's timbales and small percussion. This is music guided by cooperative interchange, with each line placed thoughtfully against the ensemble, each piece paced around the balance between density and silence, texture and lyricism, and the tactical placement of lead voices against the collective flow. Esfíngico has been on high rotation since it arrived and has egged me on to try and dig up more of Sei Miguel's earlier work.