Point of Departure

Trumpeter Sei Miguel lives in a sonic world that’s all his own. Like the music of Thelonious Monk or Joe Maneri, Miguel’s style is obviously a deliberate construction that begins with the weeding out of the conventional and trite, continues with a rethinking of musical essentials, and results something utterly personal and with very little precedent. The eccentric rhythms, the very deliberate use of silence as a part of the music, and the coordination of sounds in the ensemble are totally individual.


When he improvises, Miguel tends to focus tightly on the middle range of his instrument and string together short phrases of carefully selected notes. Everything is wrapped in pregnant silences, as if he were a painter stepping back from his work, contemplating his next stroke. Sometimes he develops his motifs in linear way, as he does on “Pássaros,” sometimes he juxtaposes seemingly unrelated phrases, as he does on “Indagação.” Sometimes he plays very little. On “Amor” he remains silent except for playing a phrase of no more than five notes about two-thirds of the way through the piece.


His manipulation of his tone is just as controlled and unique as every other aspect of his music. It’s a lovely, warm sound, surrounded by a soft, frayed ruffle that gives it a rounded edge. Sometimes he swallows a note, making a phrase sound vulnerable or tonally ambiguous. But there is a quiet strength in the sound that lends his eccentric statements a powerful authority.


His group, featuring alto trombonist Fala Mariam, Rafael Toral on modulated resonance feedback circuit (what we might have called “live electronics” in simpler times), electric bassist Pedro Lourenço, and percussionist Cesár Burago, besides giving Miguel an unusual palette of sounds to work with, are clearly well schooled in his novel approach. The overall effect is art that is closely imitating nature. An irregular rhythm played on a frame drum, never repeating itself exactly, picks its way along as electric bass notes drop like water off a leaf. The electronics whistle and flutter like wind in the trees, and the alto trombone twitters away like a bird. It’s as if each sound has a purpose or life of its own and you are listening to a random confluence of noises as you walk in the woods. There is the same sense of stillness. And the timing of each sound often cannot be anticipated, as each note appears and disappears as if obeying its own law. The music is, of course, not random, but the product of artfulness, the hardest kind of all – the art that doesn’t sound like art. This is brilliant, idiosyncratic music from an independent minded composer-instrumentalist.

Ed Hazell