In the small coastal city of Recife, in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, Amaro Freitas began playing piano in his local church at age 12. A few years later, the jazz gods intervened in the form of a Chick Corea concert DVD. "He completely blew my mind," Freitas once recalled. "I'd never seen anything like it but I knew that's what I wanted to do with a piano." The refocused Freitas became resident pianist at Brazil's legendary jazz bar Mingus before his 23rd birthday.
Rasif is Freitas' love letter to (and a colloquial spelling of) his hometown, but the name of that jazz bar looms much larger than the name of his hometown over his second release. It captures Freitas' profoundly rhythmic and percussive piano playing to grand effect. But Rasif also presents a program of powerful originals, thunderous and soulful and thick with all the harmonic, rhythmic, emotional and spiritual complications of life, entirely spoken in blues and jazz and gospel but put together into a new languagejust like the music written by the namesake of that Brazilian jazz bar.
For example, "Trupé" opens in resonant percussion, a tribal sound that (double) bassist Jean Elton carves into a merciless circular riff; Freitas' piano enters by splashing colorful notes on top of their rhythm like drops of impressionist paint; bass and piano twirl from counterpointing to doubling and then splash into a Spanish dance. The end of "Trupé" sounds less like a closing and more like the trio finally caught and wrestled its ferocious music to the ground.
"Aurora" represents the sun's single-day journey in a three-part suite that begins lightly and ends slowly but burns in the middle, all clearing space for Freitas' more melodic side to shine through. The title track honors and reflects the natural beauty of his native Brazil, with his piano first cascading from note to note like a butterfly, then shifting into strummed chords that nearly sound like a harp accompanying the bassist, all rendered in a very warm and welcoming touch.
Freitas is an amazing rhythm pianist throughout. "Dona Eni," his reconstruction of Brazil's baião rhythm, jackhammers an impossible beat until it finishes by slamming headlong into the solid brick wall of its closing chord, and it seems impossible to fully describe or explain his flurry of bass and midrange tones that blanket "Mantra" thick and heavy.
Rasif is not jazz piano trio music. It IS music from a three-piece led by piano, but Freitas' vision writes this small ensemble into much bigger sound. His stern form and romantic purpose in "Plenilunio" strongly suggest Rachmaninoff but then loosen like a balloon that floats into a Brazilian jungle and ends in a tropical thunderstorm. Charles Mingus would appreciate this journey, and the courage to take it.
Dona Eni; Trupé; Paço; Rasif; Mantra; Aurora; Vitrais; Plenilunio; Afrocatu.
Amaro Freitas: piano; Hugo Medeiros: drums, percussion; Jean Elton: double bass; Henrique Albino: baritone sax, flutes, clarinet.