Album review: Archetypes

Published on May 1, 2021 by Emery Kerekes       |      Share this post!

“That not two, not three, but six discrete minds have excelled here is nothing short of remarkable.”

“The composers seem to understand their fellow performers’ styles; each writes for every member in their own idiom; they function as one well-oiled machine.”

When father-daughter pair Clarice and Sérgio Assad set out on their long-awaited inaugural collaborative record, they hoped to choose subject material that would speak to performers and audiences alike — “something that connects us all” (as the project’s official subtitle says). Clarice, a multi-instrumentalist and composer who exists on the cusp of contemporary classical and Latin jazz, found herself digging into the framework that describes the human experience across cultures: archetypes. She brought the idea to Sérgio, a classical guitarist whose fame stems from a longstanding duo with cousin and fellow guitarist Odair Assad; he was intrigued.

With a universal sentiment in mind — archetypes, after all, define human experience the world over — father and daughter began work on a monumental 12-movement cycle, each movement modeled after one of the archetypes proposed by Freudian psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Clarice had found herself captivated by a performance from Chicago-based quartet Third Coast Percussion at 2016’s Ear Taxi Festival, and brought them into the collaboration. For the album, Clarice tackled four archetypes; Sérgio took another four; and each member of Third Coast Percussion composed a work to fit one archetype.

The ensemble marries their unique instrumentation — guitar, percussion, piano, occasionally with Clarice’s wordless vocal stylings — in myriad dazzling ways. The opening track, Clarice’s take on the Rebel, begins with a drum break that channels an unusually chill Buddy Rich. As the ensemble continues into a calculatedly uneven Latin jazz groove, an insistent marimba provides guttural accents that evoke a big band brass section. Sérgio’s tracks — InnocentOrphanMagicianExplorer —  also share some of that groove and flair. His Magician track centers his virtuosic solos, which alternate in turn with a mystical vibraphone, climbing until they crack into a peak of expansive slow-motion.

Sometimes, the members of Third Coast Percussion serve primarily to accentuate extended father-daughter duets. Peter Martin’s Ruler is perhaps less pompous than one might expect — a pleasant surprise for a tyrannical archetype. The Assads lay a pillowy mass of sound above which they trade creative melodies; low tom-toms and faint, yet metronomic snare drum rimshots at first keep time, but gradually gain rhythmic intensity, stepping into the now-shared limelight in their own, quasi-melodic right.

To counterbalance, Clarice plays up the joking nature of the Jester. There’s no melody to speak of — unless you count an errant slide-whistle, which certainly lives up to its name — but a joyful din of toy percussion instruments makes up a composite rhythm that keeps the humor front and center. Is this chaotic, yet composed scherzo-of-sorts a play on what the ear considers “melody”? Or, as is appropriate for the Jester, just a joke? The impassioned kazoo postlude provides a nose-thumbing confirmation — brash, yet fitting.

Many composers have tried — and failed — to produce coherent tag-team works. That not two, not three, but six discrete minds have excelled here is nothing short of remarkable. The composers seem to understand their fellow performers’ styles; each writes for every member in their own idiom; they function as one well-oiled machine. Group projects often lead to headache, but perhaps this is the serendipitous exception that proves the rule.