The rhythms of Latin music have crossed many cultural and geographic borders. Throughout history the Latin influence has made a strong mark on classical, jazz, pop, rock and a variety of world music. German pianist and composer Thomas Clausen puts his hand in the pot with his latest effort, "Brazilian Quartet".
The set opens with "The Old Man In The Midnight Sea", a frantic, playful romp through the tides - sort of like ‘70’s Chick Corea with a sense of humor. With it’s symphonic overtones, hip chord changes and heavy groove, this number is the highlight of the date. The momentum drops a bit with "Cafe Noir" and "Moon Flight", two less appealing originals. You haven’t heard "Desafinado" this way before - re-harmonized, broken up rhythmically, the bridge taken by the electric bass. Different, creative, and when the arrangement settles into the blowing section, we’re treated to strong solos by Clausen and the alto flute of Jan zum Vohrde. Vocalist Cecilie Norby guests on Ivan Lins’ "The Island", Chick Corea’s "You’re Everything" and Clausen’s "Chant of the Earth". Her quasi-throaty alto is pleasant if unspectacular, and most effective on the Corea number. "Chant of the Earth" seems to be an attempt at third-stream, Milesian fusion, or new-age or all three. Sounds of running water, overdubbed electric and acoustic pianos, percussion and voices scatting slowly - and I mean slowly - build into a frankly pretentious sounding ostinato section, with the piano, bass and saxophone vamping and slipping and sliding around but not really going anywhere, until the piece just kind of fades away. "Follow the Moon" opens with some lovely solo piano and grows into a mildly pleasant Bossa with some "free" interludes, hip unison lines and solid solos from the flute and piano. "Intermission Music No. 7" closes the session well - modern changes on the piano in rubato time, floating lines on the flute, a hip vamp section and into the blowing before we’re back to rubato time for the ending.
Compositionally speaking, Clausen seems to write "techniques" or "concepts" rather than strong melodic and harmonic material, and is more inclined to include different sections or grooves into a piece than what the ear dictates is necessary. In trying to extend basic Brazilian forms such as the Bossa Nova and Samba with classical orchestration and form concepts, Thomas Clausen loses sight of what Brazilian music has always been about - the song, and the passion its greatest performers (Jobim, Gilberto, Nascimento, Gismonti etc.,) exude in their sound. "Brazilian Quartet" has it’s moments, but its shortcomings outweigh its strengths.
Personnel: Thomas Clausen, Piano, keyboard, Jan zum Vohrde Alto Sax, Alto Flute, Fernando de Marco , Electric Bass, Alfonos Correa, Drums, Percussion, Cecilie Norby, Vocals