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Spokfrevo Orquestra, London, UK, July 2, 2013

Sammy Stein By

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Spokfrevo Orquestra
Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club
London, UK
July 2, 2013

Frevo is a hectic mix of Latin jazz with elaborate arrangements and intricacies. It evolved from several historical musical influences including military marching bands and polka. The composers of old are referred to as "maestros," to by the musicians. Refice, capital of the state of Pernambuco in northern Brazil, hosts a carnival for four days each summer and many of its compositions were born from the mix of the festival's marching, dancing and carnival flavors—Frevo is a Portuguese word that means "ferver," (to boil), and the music conjures up the frenetic joy of the carnival season. Some of this music has deep regional roots originating over 100 years ago. Its street origins can be heard through the marching rhythms and distinctive dance tunes, mostly played at a mind-blowing speed.

The Spokfrevo Orquestra is a 17-piece band led by Inaldo Calvalcante de Albequerque, otherwise known as Spok. Spok used to play nonstop for eight or ten hours during the carnival period in Refice, his native town, and is well known in the region as a modern day frevo maestro. Through his interpreter, he explained, to the audience at Ronnie Scott's that he used to play in Bermuda shorts and tee-shirt, so playing in a suit was very novel for him and his musicians.

While essentially street music, not all frevo was composed for the carnival season. There is a distinctive sound which makes it instantly recognizable as from the northern regions of Brazil, and some of it is composed out of respect for the unique culture and character of the region. Frevo is highly infectious, the tunes rapid and completely absorbing.

The Spokfrevo Orquestra comprises three saxophones apart from Spok, four trombones, four trumpets, guitar, bass guitar and three percussionists. Spok introduced various tunes through an interpreter, Natalia de Santana Revi, who also helps organize things for the band, explaining the origins of several numbers and the meaning behind them. The opening tune "Spokiando" started the proceedings at a blistering pace with the entire band playing, then solos from guitar, alto sax, trombone and tenor sax and a duet between Spok on soprano sax and Gilberto Pontes on tenor. This set the theme for the rest of the first half as numbers led seamlessly into each other, offering the audience a relentless, driving flow of nonstop frevo with more superb solos from saxophones, trumpets, guitar and drums. When the band united they created a full-on big band sound, playing tightly together, yet at breakneck speed.

Spok is a truly superb saxophonist. As his fingers flew over the keys, he astonished onlookers with his dexterity. Every note in a melody, however fast, could be clearly heard while he played the soprano and alto saxophones, at times seemingly at the speed of light. Leading with his shoulders, bopping and popping like a marionette, dressed in dapper suit and fedora hat, he cut a dashing figure. All the band were suited and by the end of the third number, several were sweating with exertion—numbers were generally fast but there were small moments when the pace slowed, but only for a few bars. When introducing numbers composed by frevo maestros, Spok respectfully doffed his hat when he mentioned their names. "Multo obrigado (thank you very much)," was his comment.

Some numbers were written by Pernambuco ex-pats living abroad who missed the carnival and frevo music so much they had written songs to remind themselves of home. Sivuca, a maestro living in Paris, wrote the beautiful melodies of " Foliao Ausente" to remind him of his home. "People in the area," Spok said, "are born playing this music. They play it in carnivals and on the street." He looked around Ronnie Scott's and then said, grinning, "Actually, the street is good, but being on stage here is better." Saying he could sometimes feel the presence of legendary frevo maestros when the band played, he referred to one maestro called Duda, then introduced band member and Duda's grandson, Rafael Santos, who had the honor of playing solos in a tune written by his grandfather—and playing the maestro's saxophone. In "Onze de Abril" there was an amazing rolling fugue of trumpet, guitar, trombone, and a second trumpet, a wonderful play-off between two saxophones, and finally the entire band joined in, winding up the volume and pace to end the first half.

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