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Raul De Souza: Colors

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: Raul De Souza: Colors
Raul De Souza's life can be seen as a one-of-a-kind story. Indeed, it would make a perfect novel or film script. It may not be as big a tragedy as 'Round Midnight or Bird, but it has drama, love, adventure, and great music.

Picture this: a poor child grows up in Brazil working as a weaver and practicing trombone in conversations with a buffalo in the jungle, dreaming of someday becoming an internationally famous jazzman. Suddenly, this dream materializes: our hero arrives in the land of jazz, the U.S.A., and is soon playing with many of his idols. He feels as if he's living on a flying carpet. Then suddenly again, he leaves his family and job, returns to his homeland, and his career goes down-lull. Now, 20 years later, he looks for a new miracle, but it's not so easy.

These remembrances come apropos of this CD reissue of Colors, Raul's U.S. debut solo album, recorded when he was in his creative heyday and in the process of making his life long dream come true, when he started to be recognized as one of the world's greatest trombonists while living and working in the land of the best brass players.

Two angels were helping him at that time: singer Flora Purim and especially her husband, percussion genius Airto Moreira, two old Brazilian friends who had exchanged musical ideas with Raul in the exciting bossa scene of the mid-Sixties. They were members of the brilliant second generation of bossa nova artists, who developed the samba-jazz (or sambop) wave in memorable jam sessions at the legendary clubs (Bottle's Bar, Little Club) of the Beco das Carrafas (Bottle's Alley) in Copacabana. Although Rio de Janeiro was bossa nova's general headquarters, the revolutionary style also flourished in Sao Paulo, where the Joao Sebastiao Bar became the meeting point for such young talents as Raul, Airto, Flora, and Jose Roberto Bertrami.

While the first bossa generation-represented by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luiz Bonfa, and mainly Joao Gilberto was cool, showcasing a soft aesthetic based essentially on guitar, voice, and unobtrusive percussion, the second one-which featured Sergio Mendes, Meirelles, Dom Um Romao, and many others-was hot, opting to play in trios, quintets, and sometimes even larger ensembles.

A decade later, Raul would be reunited with Flora and Airto in the U.S. But, in the meantime, many other things had happened in the life of this extraordinary self-taught musician, who was born Joao Jose' Pereira De Souza in Rio, on August 23,1934, and who had his earliest musical experiences in childhood playing tambourine in the church where his father was minister. Later on, he tried trumpet, tuba, flute, and tenor saxophone, finally opting for the trombone while still in his teens. However, his first professional job, at 16, was playing tuba in the band of Fabrica Bangu, the textile factory where he was employed. "It was one of the most important industries in Rio at that time," Raul remembers. "Our main job in the band was to play at the opening parties of the many stores the facto ry had all over Rio, as well as during soccer games to encourage the teams."

In the army, Raul met the legendary drummer Edison Machado, where both served at the Footguard Regiment. when Raul left, he started to win all the radio contests, and had the opportunity to meet such giants as Pivinguinha, Waldir Azevedo, and Aftarniro Carrtlho. "Back in 19551 recorded a couple of albums with an all-star group called A Turma da Gafieira, led by Carriho and featuring myself, Edison Machado, Ze Bodega, and Baden Powell."

Sometime later, our hero accepted the invitation to join a Brazilian Air Force band, in Curitiba City, State of Parana,' where he started his long-term friendship with Airto Moreira, then a bolero singer in local nightclubs.

After remaining in Curitiba for five years, Raul lived briefly in Sao Paulo, but soon moved back to Rio, joining Sergio Mendes's Bossa Rio, a phenomenal hard-bossa sextet that recorded a very famous album, "Voce Ainda Não Ouviu Nada." After touring Europe with Mendes in 1964, Raul became a member of Eumir Deodato's Os Catedraticos combo, cutting the Tremendão album.

It was a very busy year. When Flora Purim recorded her debut album, Flora é MPM, Raul was in the trombone section of a big band assembled by drummer Dom Um Romao, then Flora's husband. Several other sessions followed, including such LPs as Quarteto em Cy (the debut album by the vocal group) and Trio 3D Conviaa (as a guest with Antonio Adolfo's trio). Not to mention Raul's own solo debut, A VontadeMesmo, released by RCA in January 1965 with Airto (then a member of the Sambalan~o Trio) playing drums throughout the session.

In late 1965, Raul once again traveled to Europe, eventual ly playing with drummer Kenny Clarke in such Paris clubs as the Blue Note and Elephant Blanc. Back in Brazil, he joined RC7, the backing band for pop singer Roberto Carlos, which he left to found the Impacto 8 group, a short-lived entity. "I felt very disappointed with Rio's music scene, besides all the political problems in Brazil. So,I moved to Mexico in 1969."

Raul was living in Acapulco when fortune smiled on him. His old buddies Flora and Airto, then at the peak of their popularity, wanted him to work with them in the States. Three days after he got the phone call, in August 1973, Raul arrived in Los Angeles and immediately joined their group on tour as opening act for the Crusaders. when the tour was over, he settled for a while in Boston, studying at the Berklee College of Music.

Back in L.A. the following year, Raul resumed his partner-ship with Airto and Flora, fascinating the jazz world with astonishing solos on Flora's Stories to Tell album for the Milestone label. Many sessions followed with the intrepid couple: Flora's Encounter Nothing Will Be as It Was. Tomorrow, Everyday Everynight, and Carry On; and Airto's Identity, Promises of the Sun, and I'm Fine, How Are You?.

Through his Brazilian guardian angels, Raul also signed with Milestone for this brilliant solo album, Colors. Recorded in October '74, it was produced by Airto, who received approval for the project from Milestone's A&R head, Orrin Keepnews, who'd been deeply impressed by Raul's performance on Flora's Stories to Tell. "Flora had just gone to jail," Raul recalls, "and Airto started to work as a producer because he needed money to pay the lawyers. He also needed to keep working all the time so he wouldn't think too much about what was going on."

There's no doubt that Raul was at his creative peak when cutting Colors, displaying his tremendous artistry in a way he was never able to do in subsequent projects. Still a new kid to on the block in L.A., he was incredulous as he watched Airto assemble a dream-team for the sessions. "I didn't believe it when he told me that two of my biggest idols ever were going to be involved," Raul says. One was trombone master J.J. Johnson, who arranged and conducted the phenomenal horn section comprised of such veterans as Snooky Young, Jerome Richardson, and even Sahib Shihab, who'd recorded with Coltrane, Monk, and Blakey, among many others. The other legend, Cannonball Adderley, acted as alto sax soloist on two tracks.

In the rhythm section were bassist Richard Davis, drummer Jack DeJohnette, and the only newcomer, Hong Kong-born keyboardist Ted Lo, son of a Chinese mandarin and a colleague from Raul's days at Berklee. Airto himself played is percussion, although for contractual reasons his name didn't appear on the cover. ("Percussion by Kenneth Nash and others, was how the original credit read. By others, please understand Airto and Raul).

Sounding as contemporary today as when it was originally released in spring 1975, Colors dazzles for its organic conception and the magnitude of its content. "Everybody played their asses off, there was a high energy in the studio," testifies Raul. Although there are three songs by Brazilian composers in the repertoire, it can't be classified as a Brazilian (or a Brazilian-oriented) album, but as a ravishing jazz album.

Raul bewitches the listener with the depth and agility of his improvisations throughout the seven tracks. It's impossible to choose his best solo, even though his work on Baden Powell's "Canto de Ossanha" (a stunning rush of ideas rendered in short phrases and accurate attacks), and on Joe Zawinul's "Dr. Honoris Causa" (a song from Zawinul's days in Cannonball's combo) are particularly noteworthy.

Besides playing with his usual rhythmic fury, DeJohnette also contributed "Festival," a calypso-tinged tune with an epic mood propelled by Airto's wild screams and percussion arsenal. Moacir Santos's masterpiece, "Nana," Raul's biggest hit on the European acid-jazz dancefloor scene, receives a funky treatment, while guitarist Barry Finnerty's "Chants to Burn" features an intensely vigorous approach blending fusion and hard-bop elements.

On the other hand, Chick Corea's ethereal ballad "Crystal Silence," from the Return to Forever book, showcases the lyrical side of Raul's artistry. His very expressive reading is suffused with soulful virtuosity, as is his performance on "Water Buffalo," Raul's only composition on the album. In his own words, the song is "a tribute to an old friend, a buffalo with whom I had many musical dialogues when practicing in the forest. I used to play long and loud phrases, and he always answered me with shouts while coming closer to me." After a reflective intro, backed by Ted Lo's Rhodes and Airto's chimes and whistles, Raul explodes in an eloquent performance.

After the release of Colors, Raul recorded as a sideman on significant dates with Cal Tjader (Amazonas), Azar Lawrence (Summer Solstice), and most notably Sonny Rollins (Nucleus). "Rollins invited me to do the promotional tour of the album, but I had been trampled, my legs were broken, and I had to stay over three months in a hospital," he recalls with regret. However, another dream came true during a benefit concert for him: Frank Rosolino, his first influence as a trombonist, and naturally a big idol ever since, appeared at the concert and played some duets with Raul, who still was in a wheelchair. "I cried my heart out that night, when Rosolino gave me a kiss and a warm embrace at the end." On a happier occasion, the two trombonists once again joined forces at a memorable concert at the 1978 Sao Paulol Montreux Jazz Festival.

The year before, after having recorded with fusion group Caldera on their self-titled debut album, Raul signed with Capitol and released two best-selling jazz-pop-funk-r&b albums produced by George Duke (Sweet Lucy, Don 't Ask My Neighbors), and one disco-oriented flop produced by Arthur Wright in '79 ('TiI Tomorrow Comes). The association with Duke also led him to his playing on several dates by the keyboardist (Reach for it, A Brazilian Love Affair).

Unexpectedly, destiny once again intervened, this time changing things for the worse. After performing in Rio in August 1980 with an all-star ensemble (George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Airto, Ndugu, and Roland Bautista), Raul shocked everybody by deciding not to return to the U.S. He abandoned not only his international career, but also his American wife who had traveled to Brazil with him and went back to Los Angeles alone.

During the Eighties, Raul's career went downhill. Living in Sao Paulo, he performed only occasionally and recorded a couple of insignificant albums, doing sporadic studio work with Alex Merck, Gilberto Gil, Toninho Horta, and most recently, in the Mineties, with Maria Bethânia, Lisa Ono, Salena Jones, Leny Andrade, Taiguara, Nelson Angelo, and on Antonio Carlos Jobim's last album, the Grammy-winning Antonio Brasileiro. Also ensuring that the jazz world would not forget him completely, some unreleased sessions from the Seventies with Airto and Flora (Colours of Life, Aqui Se Puede, Samba de Flora) eventually came out.

Currently, Raul divides his time between Paris and Rio. Previously unreleased mid-Seventies sessions with Georgie Fame came out in Europe (The In-Crowd), and a new great album, Rio, co-led by trombonist Conrad Herwig in the style of the J.J. Johnson / Kai Winding collaborations, was issued in 1998. But he has yet to equal the mastery of his golden years. And for this reason Colors stands out in Raul De Souza's discography as his masterpiece.


Liner Notes copyright © 2024 Arnaldo DeSouteiro.

Colors can be purchased here.

Arnaldo DeSouteiro Contact Arnaldo DeSouteiro at All About Jazz.
Grammy-voting member, record producer, jazz journalist, historian and educator, screenplay writer, arranger.

Track Listing

Nana; Canto De Ossanha; Water Buffalo; Dr Honoris Causa; Festival; Crystal Silence; Chants To Burn.

Personnel

Album information

Title: Colors | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Milestone

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