This is happy music with a Latin flair, splendidly conceived and superbly performed by guitarist Ben Sher's New York-based quarteta flavorful treat for those who relish music from south of the border.
Before appraising the themes, it is perhaps best to begin by answering the question on most listeners' minds: who is (or was) Tarsila? As it turns out, Brazilian-born Tarsila de Aguiar do Amaral (1886-1973) was a modernist painter who is considered by many to be one of the leading Latin American artists of the twentieth century. "Her portrayal of Brazil through abstract semi-literal images," Sher writes, "was the inspiration for this album."
Whoever or whatever its impetus, the music on Samba for Tarsila is definitely inspired, not to mention consistently sunny and engaging. The artist's "Samba" begins quietly before adopting the familiar mid-tempo rhythm wherein Tarsila is befittingly honored. That follows the persuasive opener, "Antropofagia," whose breezy rhythm is addictive, and precedes the propulsive "Twilight," on which drummer Vanderlei Pereira defines the emphatic beat and pianist Gary Fisher uses the Fender Rhodes to great effect, as he does on the buoyant finale, Jorge Ben's classic "Mas Que Nada."
Gilberto Gil's dancing bossa, "Eu Vim da Bahia," leads to yet another highlight, Bronislau Kaper/Ned Washington's film masterpiece, "On Green Dolphin Street," whose charming melody is set to a Baio rhythm from northern Brazil on which everyone excels. The pace, but not the ardor, slackens for the first and only time on Clifton Davis' "Never Can Say Goodbye," after which "Mas Que Nada" fastens a colorful ribbon to wrap up the session. Group interplay is unerring, as it is throughout, while solosmostly by Sher and Fishertrespass no boundaries but are invariably smooth and efficient.
If the aim of an album is to leave the listener feeling pleased and positive, Samba for Tarsila scores an undeniable bulls-eye. Nothing spectacular; simply charming music carefully assembled and astutely performed. Mission accomplished.
Anthropofagia; Samba for Tarsila; Twilight; Eu Vim da Bahia; On Green Dolphin Street; Never Can Say Goodbye; Mas Que Nada.
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