Leonardo E.M. Cioglia: Desfiladeiro de Nuvens

To the growing list of fine young bass players with creative and compelling offerings to their credit, add the name Leonardo E.M. Cioglia. Born in Brazil, and a Berklee graduate, Cioglia has attracted sidemen worthy of the most veteran players, forging an extremely satisfying piece of music. Mallet master Stefon Harris conjures aural alchemy within the confines of this floating Cioglia composition. Guitarist Mike Moreno's wonderful turn casts his own hypnotic spell on steel-string acoustic guitar. John Ellis's horn has a John Surman quality to it here, and Antonio Sanchez fills any empty spaces with just the right percussive accent. Harris is the star, with the anticipatory voicings of his solo marimba runs haunting in their prescience. Cioglia must be applauded for assembling just the right performers to make his music magical.

September 30, 2008 · 0 comments


Antonio Carlos Jobim: Brazil

There are many places to start with Ary Barroso's wonderful song written about his homeland. All of the essential elements are here: samba, Jobim's vocal and Fender Rhodes, and wonderful percussion work by Airto Moreira. Joao Palm also plays a great rhythm on the drum set, which gives the song its overall drive and sense of direction. Jobim is right at home on this, the most extended song on the album. It's nice to hear him play some different songs. Historically, this album and this song will go down as highlights in the Jobim discography, but will always be neglected gems when compared to his previous efforts, though this writer feels otherwise!

September 19, 2008 · 1 comment


Antonio Carlos Jobim: Children's Games

On this dark waltz, Eumir Deodato's talents as an arranger really shine. He composed wonderful counterpoints for this Brazilian big band and utilizes the flute in ways not really heard on many Jobim albums of the past. The percussion really drives this song, as is the case with most Brazilian music, but also brings out the playfulness of the song title. Built over a simple vamp, Jobim layers some interesting Fender Rhodes sounds at the end of the song. It's a shame this album is so overlooked because songs like this are real gems and display Jobim's diversity as a composer.

September 19, 2008 · 0 comments


Antonio Carlos Jobim: Tereza My Love

Antonio Carlos Jobim, one of the main architects of Brazilian music, finds himself in great company on this highly underrated album. Accompanied by fellow Brazilian Eumir Deodato, who did all of the arrangements, Jobim wrote this song for his wife, Tereza. It's a very open and free-flowing song that sounds like you should be enjoying the amenities of the beach in Rio De Janeiro. Urbie Green provides a great opening trombone line, and Herbert Laws follows with a flute line that creates an urgent sense of utopia. Ron Carter is also perfectly comfortable playing this light bossa nova.

September 19, 2008 · 0 comments


Toots Thielemans (with Milton Nascimento): Travessia

I have several versions of Nascimento singing this composition that first brought him widespread attention among the Brazilian public—when it placed second at the 1967 International Music Festival—including his debut recording of the song and his awkward 1968 version in English. But this collaboration with Toots Thielemans is my favorite. Nascimento is in top form, especially when he delivers a wordless vocal in the high register, and Thielemans contributes a lyrical melody statement. My only complaint is that the track lasts only three minutes, and the ending arrives somewhat abruptly. Three minutes might be the perfect length for boiling an egg or generating crossover airplay, but this diehard Nascimento fan would have liked to hear several more choruses.

September 02, 2008 · 1 comment


Gustavo Assis-Brasil: The Same Day

Assis-Brasil is a guitar player we need to pay special attention to. He studied classical guitar in Brazil. Growing up, he was interested in all musical forms, but really developed a love for American jazz. He eventually came to the USA and studied at Berklee, where he received a master's degree in 2001.

"The Same Day" is the opening cut on Gustavo Assis-Brasil in Concert, which is a DVD/CD combo pack. Captured live before his hometown crowd in Santa Maria, Brazil, the CD is exactly the same music as on the DVD. The latter product, however, shows how easy Assis-Brasil makes it look stretching his fingers for some very difficult chords. Great guitarists can do that. (I am jealous.) He also plays some weird-looking guitars.

The first thing that grabs you about "The Same Day" is that, despite the names of the band members and the audience to which it is being played, this will not be a bossa nova. In fact, little if any Latin influence is heard. The chord-heavy music is part modal, part mainstream and full of dashes of bebop. Assis-Brasil has a vast array of chords at his disposal, and his use of them may be the strongest aspect to his playing. That is not to slight his single-note playing, which brings out the bebop influence previously mentioned. Many of his lines also show a similarity to the type of guitar playing John McLaughlin was doing on 1969's Extrapolation. But the "The Same Day" derives its identity from the imaginative chord progressions. The rhythm section also has its act together. Particularly impressive is Zotterelli's solo turn atop Assis-Brasil's beautiful complementary chords. Gustavo Assis-Brasil in Concert bespeaks the talents of a fantastic guitarist and promising composer. Keep an eye out for this guy.

June 17, 2008 · 0 comments


Sergio Mendes: The Look of Love

It must be tiring to build your career by jumping on trends. Sergio Mendes has been doing just that for 40 years. He followed the U.S. craze for Brazilian music back in the 1960s, late to the party but still able to parlay it into substantial sales. He came up with the brilliant(?) idea of adding dates to the names of his bands (Brasil 65 or Brasil 66 or Brasil 77) to make sure everyone knew he was keeping up with the times. And now in 2008, he mixes in rap and programming and anything else he can beg, borrow or steal. But the song itself is a 1967-vintage tune, dustier than Dusty Springfield, that Mendes recorded as a Top 10 hit 40 years ago. But (did I say this already?) he has brought it up-to-date with some trendy gimmicks.

Now for the good news . . . Mendes possesses genuine talent and a great feel for commercial music. His records are usually smartly produced and quite listenable. Moreover, the lounge music revival of recent years plays to his strength, which is to craft a higher class of chill-out music. This critic wishes that he had taken a more artistic path over the decades, rather than sniffing out the money trail. I have listened to many of his recordings, enjoying them at times, but I still get no feel for his personal vision or character. Sergio Mendes might be the name of a corporation or syndicate for all the individuality of these tracks. But you have to take these CDs as they come to you. In this instance, Mendes has crafted a very clever arrangement with a potent beat. This disk has earned coveted shelf space on your local Starbucks counter, and I can envision legions of commuters bouncing brightly behind their steering wheels as Sergio Mendes guides them on their way to work. Well done, Mr. Mendes.

But what will you do next year?

June 17, 2008 · 1 comment


Brazilian Trio: Tarde

Milton Nascimento is a vocalist extraordinaire as well as a composer of haunting melodies. With "Tarde," the Brazilian Trio pays respect to this icon of Brazilian music and one of their own in a delicate and thoughtful rendering of an enduring melody. Alves's stirring keyboard work is tastefully complemented by the minimalist bass of Matta and the rattlesnake drum work of Da Fonseca. My first hearing of this song was on Nascimento's fine work with Wayne Shorter on 1974's Native Dancer, where his voice lent a soaring urgency while retaining a paradoxical melancholic joy. That is less apparent in this piano trio version, but the pathos and sensitivity is well portrayed with a delicate dedication to the melody and a subdued improvisation that embellishes more than explores. The rhythm section is equally restrained, gently moving the tune along. Classic Brazilian music played by talented Brazilian artists in deference to their own musical traditions.

May 20, 2008 · 0 comments


The Brazilian Trio: Forests

This composition by bassist Nilson Matta is a 3- part suite. In part one, sound effects from a Brazilian rain forest introduce Helio Alves's gentle but melancholic piano. The second part then kicks off an upbeat rhythmic adventure. Alves's sensitive pianism is pushed along by the steady syncopated beat of Matta and drummer Da Fonseca, with his restrained use of cymbals. Alves's one-line improvisations converse nicely with Da Fonseca's drum rolls until breaking into a samba-influenced solo that allows for exploration atop the more heated rhythmic activity. Midway through the center section, we are treated to a subtle interplay between Matta and Da Fonseca, which then yields to the drummer's tasty, understated solo. In the final section, Alves and company return to the melancholic feel of the first section, bringing the suite to appropriate closure. One man's vision of the forest of his native land.

May 17, 2008 · 0 comments


Esperanza Spalding: Ponta de Areia

Music, like boxing, is more about interesting combinations than sheer brute force. Esperanza Spalding has a number of surprising combinations up her sleeves. First, her doubling on acoustic bass and vocals is an unusual mixture in the jazz world. Her songs also reflect an interesting combination of world music and jazz traditions. And even within the jazz sphere, she draws on both mainstream and crossover styles. Here she tackles a number that Milton Nascimento recorded on a memorable date with Wayne Shorter more than thirty years ago. These are big shoes to fill, but Spalding pulls it off with grace. She has a beguiling singing style, more pop than jazz, but with enough substance to satisfy the more reasonable members of the jazz "authenticity" police. A gracious release by a promising talent.

May 12, 2008 · 80 comments


Brad Mehldau: O Que Ser

If you see the title "O Que Ser," and you start thinking about Doris Day singing "Whatever will be, will be" . . . well, maybe you're on the wrong web site. Mehldau always has a knack for heralding songwriters that other jazz musicians don't cover, and here he highlights a song from the great Brazilian tunesmith Chico Buarque. (If you haven't heard Buarque's version, you should check it out on the stellar -- if little known in the US -- release Meus Caros Amigos.) Mehldau's trio resorts to none of the stale samba or bossa tricks, but craft a comfortable, loping rhythm which underscores a probing piano solo. A solid effort from a seminal band.

April 23, 2008 · 0 comments


Wayne Shorter: Black Orpheus (Take 4)

This early Freddie Hubbard solo really impacted me. What was interesting about it (and about the whole album for that matter) was that the record company must have prompted Wayne Shorter to keep the tracks short (they average around 4:00 each), but every solo is a compact gem. In particular, Freddies fluidity and time grab you, yet hes relaxed and you can tell hes holding way back because he knows he has only one chorus. Still, the way he built that chorus really impressed meas did everyone with their short solos on this record. Classic, understated, concise, but meaty solos from everyone involved; a real lesson in brevity. Elsewhere on the album, there are great early Wayne Shorter tunes and arrangements. Take your pick! And check out Freddie on "Powder Keg." Ouch! Burning.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments


Karrin Allyson: Estrada do Sol

On her Imagina CD, Karrin Allyson uncovers some of the lesser known gems from the oeuvre of Antonio Carlos Jobim. In his best known songs, this composer assimilated the Impressionist influences of Ravel and Debussy and gave them a distinctive Brazilian twist, and on "Estrada do Sol" we see the Erik Satie side of this seminal tunesmith. No, this song is not as well known as the bossa hits, but Allyson still needs to live up to the formidable predecessors who have recorded it, such as Nara Leo and Gal Costa. She hits the mark in this languid rendition. Allyson's Portuguese sounds credible to this Yankee - and she doesn't fall back into English as on many of the other tracks on this release. Above all, her tone captures just the right dose of saudade.

March 28, 2008 · 0 comments


Egberto Gismonti: Frevo

Outside of Brazil and certain European countries such as Germany, the overly talented Brazilian instrumentalist and composer Egberto Gismonti is hardly known. Though he has enjoyed commercial success, which is more than 99.9% of musicians in this world can say, most of his albums have been released only in those two countries. Despite this unfortunate situation, he has loyal fans in the United States who make it their business to attend shows during his very rare stateside tours.

Gismonti is a prolific composer and gifted pianist with superlative improvisational skills. He is also a very fine guitarist, playing a 10-stringed version. "Frevo" is his most recognizable composition, famously covered by the guitar duo of John McLaughlin & Paco De Lucia. The classical pianist Joanna MacGregor also has performed renditions, as have others. In some circles, it is becoming a part of the standard repertoire. Brazilian frevo is a 2/4 rhythm that is most associated with the dancing and leaping that takes place during Carnival. It is almost, though not quite, a revelers' march music. It is almost always played rapidly. Frevo is less well known than samba, but is finding its way more and more into popular Brazilian music.

Gismonti's version of his own composition is miles from the McLaughlin & De Lucia interpretation. He plays the melody a bit faster and perhaps with an added delicateness. Once he gets going, though, he takes the tune OUT. Because he is playing solo, he has more freedom than the guitar duo. At mid-tune, Gismonti turns into Bill Evans. His style is pure classicism. He plays beautiful chords and fragile single-note runs. Hints of Brazil disappear. He spends a great deal of time exposing frevo's vulnerabilities before returning to the Latin-tinged theme. This is a brilliant performance of an outstanding composition. To help remedy Gismonti's comparatively limited fame, please search YouTube, where you will find all sorts of wonderful examples of his musical mastery.

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments


Felipe Salles: Crayon

In this ambitious musical suite, saxophonist/composer Felipe Salles successfully traverses the complexities of creating musical landscapes reminiscent of his native Brazil as well as tinges of the Argentinean tango la Astor Piazzolla. In this, his music is textural and his arrangements make full use of the various tones and timbres of the instruments he has carefully chosen to include. On Crayon, dedicated to his father, the tone is set with Laura Arpainen's poignantly evocative violin solo, leading to the deep-throated Salles on a soulful tenor melody reminiscent of the soundtrack for a Raymond Chandler movie. Salles paints his pastel with the aural strokes of flutes, bass clarinets, violins, piano, bass and drums, all backing his probing tenor work, which is at once exquisitely clean yet emotionally raw. His use of the ensemble's total sonic spectrum is noteworthy. Salles is an orchestral and compositional force who, like Gil Evans or perhaps even more so Oliver Nelson before him, is to be watched closely for important things to come.

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments


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