Paris Transatlantic

This is the third episode of Rafael Toral’s projected epic Space Program, after 2006’s Space (Staubgold) and last year’s Space Solo 1 (Quecksilber), and it’s the best yet. Turning his back on the luxuriant drones that characterised his work from Sound Mind Sound Body to Violence Of Discovery And Calm Of Acceptance, Toral has put his guitar back in its case, preferring instead to develop a whole arsenal of self-designed electronic instruments, including (featured here) “glove-controlled computer sinewaves”, “ribbon-controlled sinewave bursts”, and “modified MT-10 amplifier.” In an interview that formed the basis of an extended feature in The Wire (#272, October 2006), Toral described Space Elements as “a projected set of six albums, each focusing on specific sonic element of the Space Program, and the family of instruments associated with it.” Those familiar with his pre-Space output might find it strange to see this covered in the Jazz / Improv section, but Toral’s remarks on jazz, and his relationship to it, are worth quoting: “What I’m doing is probably more of a jazz based approach to electronic music than the other way round. Performance practice in jazz often consists of a personal way of structuring musical elements, a way of accessing a whole range of personal techniques and solutions. In that sense I might describe myself as a jazz musician. That’s what I call ‘vocabulary’ – and ‘language’ is useful as a term to describe how that vocabulary is put together and used in musical discourse.”

Listening to Space Elements Vol.I you can see (hear, rather) just what he’s getting at: there’s not the slightest semblance of regular “beat”, no harmonic “changes” to play, the music is generally restrained and the texture spare, but it’s certainly closer to jazz in feel than anything he produced prior to launching himself into Space. There’s an economy and clarity of line to his own playing that connects him to a long line of less-is-more jazz musicians, from Frankie Trumbauer to Bill Dixon, via Lester Young, Jimmy Giuffre and Chet Baker. On the subject of Baker, it’s worth recalling that Toral also appeared on trumpeter Sei Miguel’s extraordinary Showtime (1996), which was dedicated “to Chet and Cage” – Miguel has remained a huge influence, not only on Toral but on a whole generation of Portuguese improvisers, including cellist Rute Praça, trombonist Fala Mariam, bassist Margarida Garcia and percussionist César Burago, all of whom (along indeed with Sei Miguel himself) contribute to Space Elements Vol. I. Burago deserves special mention: his use of unconventional instrumental timbres in conjunction with a terrific sense of timing – i.e. knowing just when to play and, more importantly, when not to – is a pure joy. There’s also an appearance from David Toop on flute on track three, whose elegant, understated lines intertwine with Toral’s delicate sonic calligraphy to produce some truly exquisite music. Go get yourself a copy.
Dan Warburton