Instrumental duo Sun Speak gets a voice through a crystalline collaboration with Portuguese jazz singer Sara Serpa | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Instrumental duo Sun Speak gets a voice through a crystalline collaboration with Portuguese jazz singer Sara Serpa 

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click to enlarge Sun Speak

Sun Speak

Jacob Boll

The first time I heard “Bogalusa,” the soulfully grooving jam that closes Sun Speak’s new album, Sun Speak With Sara Serpa (Flood Music), I had to double-check to make sure it wasn’t a cover. It has a melodic sprawl that oozes southern charm, with an opening lick that evokes Sam Cooke’s immortal “A Change Is Gonna Come,” but as drummer Nate Friedman lays out the massive, loping beat and Matt Gold rips into his meaty chords, it’s clear that the duo is tapping into a familiar tradition and putting a spin on it that suggests the Dirty Three rolling through Memphis. The tune is an anomaly on the record in a couple of ways; it’s the only one of the six that doesn’t feature the weightless singing of Portuguese jazz vocalist Sara Serpa, and it’s the only track that eschews the sparkling, shape-shifting arrangements that mark the rest of the recording. The glistening opener, “Place in Time,” sets the Wendell Berry poem “Sabbaths” to a consistently changing arrangement that toggles between a gliding, skipping rhythm and beatless fantasias that give full flight to Serpa’s improvisational instincts. Serpa has excelled in small-group settings, whether singing against the austere piano of Ran Blake or supported by the bossa-kissed arrangements of her husband, guitarist Andre Matos. While Sun Speak often follows suit, the duo isn’t afraid of some scuffed-up, slightly rude accompaniment that underlines the gossamer fineness of her singing. My favorite piece is “Basin,” where Gold evokes the undulating twang of Bill Frisell and Serpa creates an entirely wordless sound world with an extended melody that gently flutters, shimmies, and slides as it cradles the outlines of the terse grooves forged by her partners. Tonight the duo celebrates the release of the album with Serpa.   v

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