When Rafael Toral announced in 2004 that he was embarking on a hugely ambitious series of releases under the moniker Space Program, you might have been forgiven for thinking Star Trek, or 2001 or Sun Ra, images of satellites spinning in the cosmos to the strains of Strauss (or maybe not), spaceships zapping across the sky with an USS Enterprise whoosh (the starship, not the aircraft carrier).. But as the series progresses – and this latest offering is the fourth instalment, after Space (2006), Space Solo 1 (2007) and Space Elements Vol. I (2008) – it becomes ever more intimate, as if the space Toral sets out to explore with his self-designed electronic instruments lies within rather than out there in some dumb jerkoff Avatar 3D parallel universe. Put that down perhaps to his close ties with the (fanatically?) loyal clique of musicians who've orbited the planet Sei Miguel in recent years. Miguel's distinctive Chet / Cage pocket trumpet graces but one track on this album, yet the presence of several notable Miguel alumni – his partner Fala Mariam on alto trombone, Manuel Mota on guitar and the incomparable César Burago on percussion – guarantees the same meticulous attention to detail, specifically to the interplay between sound and silence that has characterised the trumpeter's work for more than two decades now.
But despite Toral's oft-stated enthusiasm for Miguel's work, it would be a mistake to think of this latest chapter of the Space Program as some kind of fawning homage. Toral is, and always has been, his own man, and is very much the featured player in these eight exquisite tracks, whether on, wait for it, modified MS-2 portable amplifier feedback, modified MT-10 portable amplifier, delayed feedback resonance empty circuit, electrode oscillator with modular filter or sawtooth pulses and noise bursts (shame he couldn't have come up with some snappy instrument names like stritch or manzello..). Quite how these gizmos function, or how they're played, I couldn't say, but he's clearly mastered them, and is able to control their pale shuddering beauty with exemplary precision and enormous delicacy. Oddly enough though, it's not the electronic instruments that leave a trace in the memory, but the good old conventional ones, especially Stefano Tedesco's warm, tasty vibes, João Paulo Feliciano's alarmingly tonal Rhodes electric piano and Evan Parker's soprano sax, the latter aided as usual by a resonant church acoustic. It all adds up to a beautiful piece of work, well worth welcoming into your own personal space.