December 16, 2020
Astral Spirits AS 130
After years of honing his skills in the Bay area, this London-recorded session confirms Filipino-American guitarist Karl Evangelista ability to hold his own in fast international company. Evangelista whose usual partners are the likes of Rei Scampavia or Cory Wright, fits his penetrating flanges and vibrating string buzzes among output from two generations of British focused improvisers, veterans saxophonist Trevor Watts and drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo, plus younger pianist Alexander Hawkins, whose range is equally comprehensive
Throughout the two CDs, the quartet strategy is anything but hierarchical. The drummer maintains a rolling rhythm with metronomic pacing and descriptive clip clops, while the pianist provides progressive long-lined passages palmed into expressive diversions as well as single-note emphasis. Upfront Watts rapid-fire squeals and slurs judder on their own or are paired or contrasted with canny keyboard asides and Evangelista’s chording which depends more on unexpected stings than echoing sound waves.
Certain tracks are also set up to give more space to quartet members. For example on “Player Piano” Hawkins fluidly jumps and bounces timbres across the keys with a sardonic Monk-like slant, with the flowing exposition meeting up with guitar twangs. Or consider “Siyanga Pala” and the subsequent “I Eat Death Threats for Breakfast” where Moholo-Moholo’s canny accent repositioning expands the rhythm past Watts’ split tones and squeak so that by the second track energetic guitar flanges and clips plus dynamic splayed notes from the pianist have a horizontal surface on which to operate creating a tougher interface that reflects the song title. “Utang Na Loob” is a showcase for Evangelista whose arching frails and constant droning line extension suggest Energy Music progenitors like Sonny Sharrock or Sonny Greenwich. While notes are piled upon notes and tones arise shoved against one another, the sound projection doesn’t preclude a cerebral ache. As for Watts, he doesn’t need more nudging into more expression and creating as many astringent split tones at an advanced pace on the last track as he does on the first.
Other tracks such as “Warriors” and “Resist” herald a change of pace. Although the theme hardens as it moves with rolling piano patterns and speedy drum pops, the former tune is edgy at the top with Watts’ disjointed slurs and focused guitar plinks. In contrast “Resist” is a near moderated ballad based on reed slurs and miscellaneous percussion expression. By the time Watts acerbic bites reach shamanistic inferences along with single note guitar echoes, its Hawkins fluid glissandi that connect loose ends.
Variations of many formulas are tried out on the extended “Harana” which creates theme variations from horn peeps, string plucks and percussion clatter. Watts squeezes triple toned flutters at the top of scale, and Evangelista responds in kind. Bumping bottom notes from the guitar and clipping beats from the drummer signal a mid-section respite until the piece ends with both saxophonist and guitarist using extended techniques to deconstruct the theme, ending with parallel reed-string echoes.
There’s no question of Evangelista’s ability to interact in this fast company. But there’s still a feeling that a two-CD set may have been a bit too much. Perhaps a judicious single CD precise would have been better. Still Apura should appeal to those who follow any of the musicians.
Track Listing: CD1: 1. Apura! 2. Heyo Buhay Pa 3. State of Emergency 4. Utang Na Loob 5. Tootoo Yan 6. Siyanga Pala 7. I Eat Death Threats for Breakfast 8. Resist CD2: 1. FDT 2. Harana 3. Refugee 4. Warriors 5. Player Piano 6. Balilbayan 7. Consummatum Est
Personnel: Trevor Watts (alto and soprano saxophones); Alexander Hawkins (piano); Karl A.D. Evangelista (guitar) and Louis Moholo-Moholo (drums)