Nathan Schram's "Portalegre" Is Deep and Moving
Cover photo: Nathan Schram
Nathan Schram is a Grammy-winning composer, entrepreneur and violist of the Attacca Quartet. Portalegre is one of the highlights on his excellent (and very diverse) new album Nearsided. To record this texturally and melodically rich piece Nathan had to step out of his comfort zone and invited a few collaborators to jump into the fog with him.

One of them is his wife Becca Stevens, an outstanding vocalist and songwgriter, whose vocals are a key component of the track. On Portalegre she goes through a kaleidoscope of emotions, from detached to scary, from eerie to ethereal, without using a single word to convey those feelings.

The track has many layers both sonically and emotionally, but always manages to work with blank spaces as effectively as with actual sounds. Despite being emotionally challenging, it draws you in, inviting for multiple relistens. And each listen opens up new doors within the composition's sonic universe, hiding many subtle details and always staying open for interpretation.

Nathan Schram
Portalegre sprouted its first sign of life while on an artist residency with my wife (and another slew of mind altering musicians like Mike League and Justin Stanton of Snarky Puppy, Louis Cato, and Gisela João) in Portalegre, Portugal during the pandemic summer of 2020. After writing a lot of music that leans heavily on more traditional string textures I felt the urge to explore a kind of sound that is strange and rhythmic like Radiohead's Ideoteque.

Initially I had created a base of rhythmic textures only with my viola before realizing that I needed to branch out instrumentally to bring the music to life. I started layering synthesizers and drum machines until I realized that I had an overgrown jungle that needed both clearing out and focus. I asked my wife and greatest-songwriter-of-all-time, Becca Stevens, to follow her ears and use the draft as a playground to layer wordless textures and ideas. Once a melody emerged from her voice I asked Antonio Sánchez to step in and help add the finishing touches the way only a life-long percussionist can. His playing is like another dialect of harmony and added so many deeper dimensions to the song.

It isn't a song that I could have completely envisioned before writing it. But I couldn't be more grateful for having collaborators that were willing to jump into the unknown with me and help discover something strange and new.
Listen to the whole album as well. Other standout tracks include serene opener Golden Gate and single Waterbear and Where We Are Not, beautiful and full of inner struggle, like a troubled poet's soul.