Creators of the samba doido
(“crazy samba”) the Brazilian power trio Azymuth reached their zenith of popularity during the early 1980s when the two albums paired on this Milestone reissue were first released. Theirs was a collective music infused with a variety of influences including everything from Bossa Nuevo and indigenous Indio rhythms to space rock and fusion. Augmenting their core pyramid with a small cadre of fellow countrymen their sound is odd blend of acoustic and amplified instruments that doggedly resists concise classification. Still both albums are clearly rooted in the conventions of time in which they were crafted and feature the slick production and pop sensibilities of instrumental music designed for mass consumption. Amidst all the glossy arrangements and studio wizardry are genuine moments of surprise, but it’s sometimes necessary to sift through significant errata to find them.
The atmospheric “Cascade of the Seven Waterfalls” mixes tranquil acoustic guitar, light syncopated percussion, lilting wordless vocals and pervasive keyboard effects into a pastiche that skirts at the borders of muzak. “Through the Window” by contrast shuffles in on electronic percussion, rubbery bass, fluttery flute and a chorus of Portuguese lyrics. Turning the tables again “Remembering Milton” is heavy on the funk with Malheiros slapping out a finger popping bass line against Bertrami’s swirling keyboard patterns and the colorful percussion of Conti. “A Woman” showcases Einhorn’s mournful harmonica atop a flaccid sea of keyboard textures and Malheiros stop time bass while “Indian Pepper” sounds suspiciously like a Jan Hammer Miami Vice outtake melded to Brazilian street rhythms. Rapid Transit, the disc’s second half, treads much the same terrain, but with a slightly funkier bent. Derivative break beats abound on the opening “Make Mine Guaraná” supporting Betrami’s electronically treated vocal effects via vocoder. “Afternoon” is a lengthy synth-saturated ballad that meanders for the better part of eight minutes. But “Missing Dotó” delivers an all to brief return to surprise balancing a wash of cadential percussion with a unison vocal chant and what sounds like toy piano. The closing “Gate of Time” is also unexpected both in terms of its haunting theme and reliance on purely acoustic instruments.
Calling this music “crazy” is an exaggeration (and perhaps a marketing ploy), “eclectic” is probably more apropos. But while these dates are bantam weight by jazz standards they’re still an entertaining aperture into one band’s well intentioned experiments with early 80s samba sounds. Fusion fans will almost certainly find the music of Azymuth more to their liking than listeners with allergies to amplified instruments and pervasive studio production.
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