It would be easy to assume, at least from a North American perspective, that any musically inclined kid growing up in Brazil has to come under the pervasive influence of Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. But for São Paulo native Ricardo Grilli, who was born decades after the heydays of samba and Tropicalia, American and British rock bands mattered a lot more. A guitarist, he was especially taken with Dire Straits, whose timeless classic, “Sultans of Swing,” he played in various bands as a teenager.
And when Grilli, who is now 27, discovered jazz through friends and visits to the local record shop, it was not through the works of seminal mainstream artists such as Stan Getz, Jobim’s great American collaborator, but the groundbreaking jazz-rock of Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew. “I completely related to that big, chaotic sound—that aesthetic really appealed to me,” he said. In short order, the “children” of Bitches Brew—Weather Report, Return to Forever, the Mahavishnu Orchestra—captivated him as well.
Since then, Grilli has absorbed all kinds of influences, ranging from young guitar god Kurt Rosenwinkel to adventurous writer-arranger Maria Schneider. But one of the great strengths of his glowing debut album, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, is how subtly and seamlessly those influences come together in the service of Grilli’s restless creativity—manifested in his love of odd meters, offbeat structures, and themes that keep circling back on themselves like the narrative lines in the Italo Calvino novel from which Traveler takes its name.