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Spok Frevo Orquestra at Jazz at Lincoln Center

Nick Catalano By

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Frevo—a feverish, exuberant dance music from the state of Pernambuco in northeastern Brazil—made its Big Apple debut last night (October 25th, 2014) at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Appel Theater. Virtually unknown in the U.S., it was originated by a composer known as Zuzinha as a street martial arts/ dance music and organized around carnival in cities like Recife in 1907, taking its name from the Portuguese verb "ferver"—to boil. It was presented by the Spok Frevo Orquestra—a group constructed along the lines of a typical American jazz band with brass, reeds and a rhythm section. The leader/ alto saxophonist / arranger is Inaldo Cavalcante de Albuquerque, better known as Maestro Spok.

The Spok Frevo Orquestra, with three percussionists, a bass and guitar anchoring the wildly up-tempo Frevo brass and reed sections, performed the most dramatic new music presented at Lincoln Center Jazz in recent memory. The tempo velocity of the Frevo compositions does not readily lend itself to traditional jazz improvisation, but the solos of the band's impressive musicians were impressive both in articulation and harmonic design.

Spok organized the band in 2003 and assumed the task of introducing his Frevo-Jazz initially to the other cities and centers in Brazil like Sao Paulo, and then to international audiences. In France in 2008 the band achieved notoriety when it performed at the Palais de l'Elysee for President Sarkozy. The Lincoln Center performance is part of the band's seven-city U.S. tour.

Spok introduced each of the compositions (he wisely had a translator for the audience) with detailed descriptions and homages to the musicians and composers. The list of writers had names virtually unknown to U.S. patrons, but some such as Dori Caymmi, Jovino Santos Neto, Nelson Ayres and Dominguinhos were familiar.

Spok Frevo Orquestra brought along its 2014 CD dubbed Ninho De Vespa (Wasps' Nest) on the Motema label, which contains most of the selections heard live at the Appel room performance. It is a must-have CD for anyone interested in this intriguing Frevo music.

The concert presented featured guests, including JAL's own Wycliffe Gordon, who deftly assimilated the Frevo structure while rendering some of his patented solos. Young tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, winner of the 2013 Thelonious Monk Jazz Saxophone competition and a Berklee graduate, delivered spectacular solos as she joined the ensemble for several selections.

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