The correct intuitions for ever-puzzling music never abandon Alfredo Costa Monteiro in these last years, a period during which his recorded production has reached a level of solidity like never before. As we have repeatedly written in the past, the Portuguese gipsy of contemporary art can distill meaning from almost everything he touches, and – as a consequence – affecting sounds from any instrument (or object) that he decides to use. In the case of Umbralia, released quite a while ago but only recently sent to your reviewer, the choice fell on an electric organ. This decision, paired with the kind of output we’re usually furnished with by the Greek label run by Themis Pantelopoulos, reveals the area of research as that where drones, apparent motionlessness (pregnant with decisive events) and microtonality meet.
Since the very beginning one’s aware that this is not a typical “press-play-and-let-the-psyche-do-the-work” album. Costa Monteiro is an inquisitive musician, so he’s not content with a single solution; circa 12 minutes in, the strident clusters that open the program suddenly cease, and after a few instants of silence a wonderful series of sloping figurations draws arcs in the air like semi-invisible rainbows, soon “corroborated” by adjacent pitches that immediately destroy that sense of suspension with ear-piercing dissonant signals. This, in turn, morphs into another accrual of notes whose edgy traits bring out mind-intoxicating fumes: a constant flux of atypical codes and tones, the incessant rubbing constituting a veritable nirvana. This alternance of rarefaction and accumulation – at times relatively noisy – goes on for the whole extent of the composition, each time renewing our attraction towards this clever superimposition of diverse gradations: often discordant, generally bewitching.
Once again, a first-class statement that discloses its potential even at low volume but expresses it fully by playing it loud. Skilfully orientated upper partials can regulate a transitory sensory perspective of the cosmos, and Costa Monteiro doesn’t need cheap pseudonyms and “hear-me-pontificating” anonymity to perform the job.