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Nite & Disk

Dave Pietro and Banda Brazil: Embrace-ing Cultures

By Published: March 27, 2004
This new CD is designed and paced so artistically that it nearly becomes a suite. The Brazilian percussion weaves in and out, like light streaming through a rain forest; the cultural flavors are seamlessly blended, as when Pietro trades fours with a cuica. During the intense improv of "Equanimity," there's a subtle insinuation of rattles, and a brief, distant samba whistle. The tune pauses for a splendid rubato statement by Dave Berkman; it swirls up and builds once again, then fades gently as a lone berimbau heralds the first of three brief "Interludes."

These are Anastacio's solo vocal/percussive gems, although his passionate, wordless singing serves as a native instrument throughout. Crucial to the connective tissue of this fusion, "Interlude #1" essentially ends the track before it, then in turn becomes the introduction to "The Scene Between Two Unseens," where the fender rhodes, sensuous alto, and rolling Carnaval drums take over. Similarly, the pensive mood of "Canto Triste" gets just enough time to settle in before a parade begins and gathers into the joyful "Cururu."

A CD and performance highlight, this is Pietro's jolly tune about a guy who's so environmentally correct that he makes his own paper; it features a witty cuica solo that sounds like a verbal polemic, and its ending makes me laugh every time I hear it. Banda Brazil offers a killing live version, as Pietro grins and boogies around its molten core. "It's amazing how the groove can be so strong and relaxed at the same time," he tells me later. "It's almost an excruciating pleasure." Judging from the audience's reaction, they were feeling it too (but in a good way).

Embrace 's intriguing layers and influences include some from the other side of the world. Pietro is also attracted to Indian culture, where the music, like Brazil's, is lush, romantic, and rhythmically complex; a continuing seeker, he also finds a spiritual connection there. "Music in India is spirit," he explains. "The stage is a temple, and it's disrespectful to play your instrument out of tune." Pietro's Indian studies are reflected in some of the odd meters in Embrace , as well as in "The Scene Between Two Unseens," which he conceived after reading the Bhagavad Gita , a sacred Indian text. He wrote it soon after, while visiting his parents' house, an occasion that often stimulates a need for perspective. Meditating on things "seen" and "unseen," he sat down at the piano, and "the tune flowed out." (When their busy schedules permit, Pietro plays in a trio called East Meets Jazz , led by renowned tabla player Sandip Burman, with Paul Bollenback on guitar.)

There are other meanings in the titles and sequence of the CD (at least, it seems so to me, even without playing it backwards.) For example, "Remembrance" begins with a thoughtful, questioning solo by bassist Nilson Matta. The questioning gets progressively more insistent, Anastacio ruminates on his berimbau for a minute (literally, in "Interlude #3"), and the answer finally comes in the quiet acceptance of "And So It Is." "Equanimity" repeats a goofy carousel figure that conveys the endless merry-go-round quest for balance, while the urgent "Hamartia," whipped up by McCann's electric guitar, refers to the classic Greek theme of the hero who's doomed by a tragic flaw.

There was no flaw this night at Cornelia, although the Banda has about half the CD personnel: Pietro is the only horn, and "new" on bass and drums are the fine Leonardo Cioglia and Adriano Santos, part of the touring group that will soon Embrace a wider audience. "You can't get the same colors with a smaller group, but you can get deeper and more intimate," says Pietro. "Anyway, I look at each piece as a living creation. I'm not wedded to the 'perfect' arrangement. Any recording or performance is just a snapshot of where things are at the moment."

The next moment for Pietro sounds more like a whirlwind: touring with Banda Brazil or his quartet in Texas, Colorado, and Arizona, he will be playing in Japan for most of May. In the meantime, I strongly recommend getting your own "snapshot" of this brilliant and intriguing CD. That way you can eat your sour-cherry cheesecake, and have the music too.

Embrace: Impressions of Brazil - A-Records

Tracks: Never Nothing, Equanimity, Interlude #1, The Scene Between Two Unseens, Canto Triste, Cururu, Interlude #2, Remembrance, Interlude #3, And So It Is, Hamartia, Embrace, Choro Bandido

Personnel: Dave Pietro (alto, soprano, C-melody saxophones, composer, producer), Scott Wendholt (trumpet, flugelhorn), Tom Christensen (alto flute, clarinet, tenor sax), Pete McGuiness (trombone), Pete McCann (electric and acoustic guitars), David Berkman (piano, fender rhodes), Helio Alves (piano), Sergio Brandao (electric bass), David Finck and Nilson Matta (acoustic bass), Paulo Braga and Duduka Da Fonseca (drums), Valtinho Anastacio (vocals and percussion, including shaker, congas, caxixi, pandeiro, berimbau, surdo, tamborim, and whistles)

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