The Portuguese composer J. Alex Dias is still well unknown and his presence in the virtual world is yet very discreet. He had been selected by the Italian record label Blue Spiral Records in 2018 and was featured in their compilation The Minimal Piano Series Vol. II, with his piece “Walking without Faith”. His 2019 release — Dangerous Journeys —, with the same label, aims at bringing light and knowledge on the composer, performer and musicologist. The album makes its way around the piano and towards a post-minimalist compositional approach.
Dangerous Journeys could not have been titled better; it is a real invitation for travel, and each piece of the album illustrates several progressive musical episodes. “Fighting the Storm”, depicts the different phases related to the human struggle against the force of nature, through creative devices such as continuous rhythms, opposite directional lines, rhythm diminution and note subtraction. It is a rather static piece, but emphasises a certain reiteration of musical motion. “Introspection” starts where “Fighting the Storm” had ended — and is very similar in the fact that it borrows the same arpeggio pattern — and brings harmonic change and progression to the piece; on top of it sits a simplistic melody. “Walking on Thin Ice”, the second episode of the journey is a lot richer in the musical arrangement, and is once more based on the idea of ostinato; depicting the human motion. It then evolves into a brief ternary time waltz that refers to the amusing aspect of walking on thin ice. Dias excels at painting with sounds. The third episode, “Boat Crossing a Snowstorm” is a prime example of it — whether through the variations of tempi depicting the motion of the sea or the harmonic modulations echoing the adversity of the storm. “Beholding the Horizon” uses a similar approach to some of the earlier pieces of the album and consolidates the cohesion — as well as the progression of the journey; it acts as a breather to the rather intense musical adventure. “The Flight of a Butterfly”, is a fantastically well written piece that brings stunning images to the mind; through the beating of the wings and the lingering of the butterfly — with musical thrills and variation of the pulse — and a structure that paints a journey through nature its danger and its beauty. “Self-awareness” brilliantly concludes the album by bringing back memories of Introspection, whether through its rhythm arrangement of harmonic progression. The melody evokes a certain romanticism to the composer’s musical style.
Dangerous Journeys is a fantastic surprise; since so little is known about Dias and so little is said about the album, it is very difficult for the listener to get an incentive of the album prior to its listening. But as the music goes by, it is very difficult for the listener not to be captivated by the composer’s evident talent for evocation. The music is cleverly crafted to allow each title to resonate; Dias uses the full range of colours whether technical or compositional and expresses his journey beautifully. Another wonderful discovery thanks to Blue Spiral Records.