Back to Brazil: Part Three

Mark Holston By

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Another name that will likely be new to all but the most fervent Brazilophile is guitarist and composer Luciano Franco. A native of Fortaleza, a city far removed from the cultural meccas of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Franco is attracting attention today with Sonho ou Canção (Dream or Song) (Self Produced), a lavish 15-track program that features a different vocalist on every cut and a raft of topflight instrumentalists. Franco's guitar work is clean and equally informed by the lineage of the Gilberto/Menescal school and such jazz artists as Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery. Menescal is present on one track, while multi-instrumentalist Arismar do Espírito Santo and bassist Adriano Giffoni, two renowned instrumentalists, are showcased on several performances. The rest of the cast of a dozen or so may be largely unknown to all but hardcore Brazilian audiences, but there is an unfailing level of excellence throughout.

Part Bossa and part MPB, with a precocious jazz waltz thrown in for good measure, Sonho ou Canção is instantly likeable. The recording reminds this observer of those fortuitous times when an LP was fished out of an obscure record shop in Rio or São Paulo—based not on the artists or repertoire but solely on the basis of a gut instinct that signaled something special was at hand. This is that kind of release: underexposed musicians and unfamiliar melodies but a blissful experience throughout.

Kerry Politzer is a young Portland, Oregon-based pianist who has long nurtured an affection for Brazilian jazz. On Diagonal: A Tribute to Durval Ferreira (Self Produced), she and a small ensemble celebrate the late composer and guitarist Durval Ferreira's songbook. Politzer dug deep into the composer's work, transcribing 30 of his compositions from Bossa Nova-era recordings to better understand his technique. For this date, she includes eight of Ferreira's best-known songs and adds three of her own original works. Ferreira's style ranges from the bubbly, joyous spirit of tunes like "São Salvador," featuring flautist John Nastos, to the winsome nostalgia of "Moça Flor," featuring the leader's fleet pianistics and soothing vocalizing. She applies the same arranging formula to "E Nada Mais," a catchy but seldom recording Ferreira melody. "Batida Diferente" and "Estamos Aí," both co-authored with harmonica legend Mauricio Einhorn, are the composer's hard-hitting Samba Jazz standards. Politzer does Ferreira's legacy justice on this charming 11-track set that perfectly captures the seductive spirit of classic Bossa Nova and the bebop-grounded vibe of honest Samba Jazz.

It is difficult to name an instrument that is less used in jazz than the bassoon. Don't blame Janet Grice for that state of affairs, however. For several decades the noted bassoonist has created space for her instrument to shine in jazz and Brazilian music. On a new recording, the academic, who has a Ph.D. based on her study of the bassoon in Brazilian music history, is joined by a fellow bassoonist and Brazil native, Paulo Siqueira. Proezas For Bassoon (Prowess for Bassoon) (Self Produced) is the result of this unusual union—an 11-track program that's loaded with the kind of tunes that naturally lend themselves to the inherently woody the double reed sound.

The duo sounds particularly comfortable in a choro setting, and the opening track, Pixinguinha's "Os cinco companheiros" (The Five Companions, first recorded in 1940), is masterfully interpreted by the two woodwind artists, and this perky choro gets the program off to a spectacular start. The Moacir Santos tune known in the U.S. as "April Child" is also tailor-made to the twin bassoon thanks to what has been called a "stop-and-go" rhythm. Siqueira is featured on a flute solo here—a multi-instrumentalist, he also plays soprano sax and percussion on the session. On Luiz Bonfa's "Menina Flor," Grice shines in her solo outing, erasing any doubts about the bassoon's ability to hold its own on the improvisational front. Other songs on the menu include Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Meditation," Edu Lobo's "Casa Forte" and "Receita de Samba" by Jacob Do Bandolim, a beloved traditional Samba that remains a much-performed in Brazil. The session closes with a medley of songs that reflect the folk tradition of the northeast of Brazil and such rhythms as the Baião. It's another opportunity to observe and enjoy how the bassoon is a natural fit to a wide range of Brazilian folk, semi-classical, and popular music styles.

Sofia Ribeiro may call Portugal home, but Brazil is in her heart on Lunga (Self Produced), a passionate reading of stylistically nimble chamber jazz seasoned with Brazilian folk and pop music influences. Colombian pianist Juan Andrés Ospina and his acoustic jazz trio anchor the set. The Bogotá native's ravishing keyboard sorties provide a commanding guiding light throughout, regardless of stylistic dictates.

Ribeiro, who wrote or co-authored eight of the session's 10 tracks, is an exceptionally talented young vocalist. She can nonchalantly pivot from steady, angelic pure tones to emotion-packed scatting and vocalese in a flash. At times she appropriates the essence of Gal Costa's crystalline upper register vocalizing while elsewhere she captures the yearning sensuality and carefully calibrated vibrato of Jane Monheit. The use of a large vocal chorus on several tracks, a staple arranging technique of vintage MPB sessions, effective substitutes for a string section. The choice of guest accordion and harmonica players, who add the rhythmic zest of Brazil's impoverished but culturally distinctive northeast, also pays dividends. On "Voa," with Brazilian accordionist Vitor Gonçalves punctuating the arrangement's jaunty, Baião-inspired rhythmic pulse, the influence of such Brazilian master composers as Edu Lobo and Egberto Gismonti is confirmed. "Sotaque" is rollicking and loaded with hip, insider cultural references, while romantic balladry reigns on "O Meu Chão É Um Tapete" and "If You Knew," with Ribeiro singing in English. Lunga is thoroughly captivating—a true minor masterpiece.
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