In the years since the release of its debut Blue Night in 2013, Philadelphia-based Ensemble Novo has refined a sound that’s perfectly suited to its primary inspiration – music made in Brazil during the 1960s and early 70s.
It’s a sound built on contrasts – the crystalline clarity of the vibraphone crossed with the husky introspection of tenor saxophone, the warmth of nylon string guitar woven into the crisp pulse of samba percussion. As is true of so much from Brazil, this is music that encourages (and sometimes demands) dancing, but is equally suited to contemplative listening.
Look To the Sky, which was recorded live at Rittenhouse Soundworks over several days in May 2016, finds Ensemble Novo tackling several little-heard gems from the years just after the bossa nova craze – the fertile era known as MPB. Among them: The Antonio Carlos Jobim/Edu Lobo collaboration “Vento Bravo,” Egberto Gismonti’s first “hit” song, “O Sonho,” and the Milton Nascimento classic from Club de Esquina, “Cravo e Canela.” This period in Brazilian music is notable for its endlessly lyrical melodies, coupled with a jazz-influenced sense of harmonic daring. Ensemble Novo not only celebrates these qualities – it has rapidly evolved into a unit that transforms them – into gorgeous, richly interactive and endlessly surprising creations.
A video featuring the title track is available here: https://youtu.be/_3hv1rycCZM. It offers glimpses of Ensemble Novo in the studio recording, as well as in performance during a Musician’s Gathering evening at Rittenhouse Soundworks.