Ernesto Rodrigues, Jose
Oliveira & Marco Franco,
23 Exposures
(Creative Sources, 2002)

When I think of jazz, I think of a musical genre that, despite its regional variations, speaks to a huge audience. How can you go some place like New Orleans and not be hooked by the spirit of the music? Well, for some folks, the very fact that the sound is accessible to the mainstream causes it to be repulsive to them. For these folks, there is improvisational jazz. Improv is so different that, to my way of thinking, "jazz" can be left off the description entirely.

Three Portuguese musicians -- Ernesto Rodrigues (violin, viola), Marco Franco (soprano sax) and Jose' Oliveira (percussion, acoustic guitar) -- have released a CD of improv called 23 Exposures. The 23 tracks (none of which have titles -- I imagine because it would be next to impossible to truly reproduce them) range in length from one minute to five. It is often hard to tell where one track ends and another begins. The musicians sound to me as if they are torturing noise out of their instruments. For example, instead of strumming, plucking or using a bow on the stringed instruments to produce a pleasing melody of sorts, you often hear what might be equated to nails being scratched down a chalkboard. Instead of a percussive beat, there are random clangs, bangs and cymbal clashes here and there. I do like how the sax occasionally sounds like a chirping bird -- not that I would want to buy a CD for that reason.

I think that this type of improv is for extremely right-brained listeners, those heavily into drugs or those who enjoy '70s horror film soundtracks such as The Exorcist. As I am left-brained and having trouble describing the sounds (notice that I did not say "music") on 23 Exposures, let me offer an analogy of sorts. I went to a modern art museum recently and saw an untitled piece that made about as much sense to me as the tracks off this CD. There was a huge square canvas, perhaps six feet on a side. On the lower left and right sides, there were seemingly random lines of color that drifted to the bottom; 95% or more of the canvas was blank. No matter how much I stared at the piece, it did not speak to me. I simply did not get how this was called "art." In a similar vein, I do not get how this CD constitutes "music."

To be fair to the musicians, they are entitled to their vision of composition. And, honestly, I am happy when people find a creative outlet for their art regardless of whether the public responds to it or not. After all, an artist needs to produce art for himself, not the masses. To explain this CD, the liner notes state that modern music is "transparent" and that there are no "traces of magic" to be heard. "In improvisation the mystery of music is restored in full, for the simple fact that it is simultaneously created and executed, that is, it is created in the 'real time' of its execution." OK, I can see the point. But, I've still heard better "music" from a room full of six-year-olds who have been given random instruments to "play."

23 Exposures by Rodrigues, Oliveira and Franco is not a CD for Joe-Six Pack. If you are extremely creative, already know you like improv, or would like something non-rock with which to annoy your parents, this might be the CD for you. Personally, if I paid anything to hear this stuff, I would be asking for my money back. However, if you are one of the select few, let me know. I've been thinking about making an improv CD myself based on random noises made in the kitchen. The working title is The Musical Nourishment of Food Preparation. I think I'm going to "artistically" use the toaster, coffeemaker, blender, metal spoon on metal pot and, oh yeah, the ding from the microwave for percussion. The left half of my brain just wants to know if I have an audience first before I let the right half go wild.

- Rambles
written by Wil Owen
published 12 April 2003