The story of Orpheus and Eurydice has been told and retold in various mediums and manners throughout the ages. Claudio Monteverdi used opera as his means of transmitting the tale, alt-rocker Nick Cave tackled it head-on in song and author Neil Gaiman revisited the story in comic book format, but the list doesn't stop there; any decent rundown of Orpheus remakes has to include Brazil's two most famous contributions: the play Orfeu da Conceição and its subsequent film offspring, Black Orpheus (Dispat Films, 1959).
These works set the story during the time of Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro and feature some of the finest Brazilian compositions to come out of the mid-twentieth century. Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfa each wrote some timeless songs to fit the story and set things in motion for the Brazilian music boom that would sweep America in the early '60s.
Bassist Nilson Matta, like many a musician-to-be at the time, was completely taken with the music connected to these projects and he longed to record pieces from both the play and the movie; he's now accomplished his mission. Matta assembled a rotating to-die-for cast including pianist Kenny Barron, clarinetist Anat Cohen, trumpeter Randy Brecker, and vocalists Leny Andrade and Gretchen Parlato, to rework this music to his liking in various settings and manners.
Short interludes serve as palette cleansers and transitional devices to connect fully fleshed out works that really deserve a listener's undivided attention. Each of Matta's fully realized performances allow a different element of sophistication to come into focus. Jobim's "Overture," for example, mixes the prim-and-proper with the passionate-and-pure, thanks in part to Laura Metcalf's cello, while Bonfa's better-known "Samba De Orfeu" feeds off of the energy provided by clarinet queen Anat Cohen. Both of Parlato's appearances prove to be pure magic and other highlights include "O Nosso Amor," which features Brecker out front, and "Manhã Da Carnaval," which matches Barron up with Matta and drummer Alexander Kautz.
Honorable mentions go to flautist Anne Drummond, who rarely gets the attention she deserves in the jazz press, guitarist Guilherme Monteiro, who adds color and rhythmic zest to every setting he appears in, and pianist Klaus Mueller, who turns in some excellent performances and contributes a few notable arrangements. Matta's work simultaneously lives up to the spirit of the original interpretations of this music and the notion of artistic rebirth that has long surrounded this story; kudos to this bassist-cum-conceptualist.
Overture; Repinique Interlude; Samba De Orfeu; A Felicidade; Cuica Interlude; O Nosso Amor; Manha De Carnaval; Batacuda I; Eu E O Meu Amor/Lamento No Morro; Frevo De Orfeu; Valsa De Euridice; Ascend, My Love; Um Nome De Mulher; Batacuda II; Se Todos Fossem Iguais A Voce; Violao Interlude; Hugs And Kisses.