Saffronkeira + Mario Massa: Cause and Effect
Denovali Records

It was a smart move on electronic sound designer Eugenio Caria's part to invite trumpeter Mario Massa to collaborate with him on Cause and Effect as both Sardinian artists clearly benefit from the union. Not that Caria's two previous Saffronkeira full-lengths were wanting necessarily, but having Massa included as a distinctive solo voice makes for a startlingly good result. As often happens in such cases, their association arose serendipitously, with Caria first seeing Massa playing on a regional TV program and then tracking the trumpeter down to propose a meeting.

What followed wasn't simply a one-off studio session that was subsequently finessed into an album-length proposition. Instead, the two met every weekend to develop their ideas in concert with one another, the trumpeter improvising over Caria's set-pieces, and Caria in turn shaping Massa's playing further through processing and layering. On the seventy-five-minute result, an effective balance is achieved between the two musicians and their contributions, with neither one dominant and the music evolving symbiotically and organically, especially during longer settings such as the opening and closing pieces, “Pity” and “SouthNorth,” each of which extends for almost ten minutes.

One sometimes hears echoes of other artists' work on the album, though that's not a damning criticism. The heat-stroked fusion of electronics and trumpet in “Pity,” for example, suggests what a meeting between Murcof and Toshinori Kondo might produce, while Massa's soft muted expressions within “The Journey” call Arve Henriksen's sound to mind. In other settings (“Screwing of Thought,” for one), Massa's playing hints that Nils Petter Molvaer, Jon Hassell, and Miles Davis might justifiably be cited as additional touchstones. Speaking of the latter, one is reminded of another collaboration during the plaintive “A Separation,” specifically the one between Gil Evans and Davis that brought Sketches of Spain into being.

In a typical setting, the trumpet drifts through dense, largely beatless landscapes built up from field recordings, glitchy electronic textures, strings, choral voices, and synthetic elements. The tracks explore a number of contrasting moods, with some pieces turbulent and tumultuous (“Altered State”) and others gentler by comparison (“The Sacrifice”). There are some stirring moments on the recording, to be sure, one memorable example the descending melodic patterns and choir voices that give the title track such a heartfelt quality. So fluidly do the two collaborators' sounds combine that the horn often becomes one more element within a larger whole as opposed to a lead instrument backed by an electroacoustic orchestra. Time and again Caria and Massa remind us that Cause and Effect deserves to be regarded as a project of ambitious scope and one well-realized.

December 2013