The New School Brazilian Jazz Ensemble: Choro - The Bebop Of Brazil at New School, NYC

Budd Kopman By

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The New School Brazilian Jazz Ensemble
Choro: The Bebop of Brazil—125 Years of Instrumental Genius
The New School Jazz Performance Space
New York City, New York

May 7, 2009

The New School Brazilian Jazz Ensemble was founded in 1995 by guitarist Richard Boukas, a world-renowned expert in Brazilian music, to both promote the music of Brazil and expose young players to its intricacies. Many contemporary Brazilian composers have seen their work premiered by the ensemble over the years, but this is the first program that Boukas has dedicated to Choro, which has a rich repertoire unto itself. Choro is rarely performed in New York City, and the fact that this program spanned its entire evolution from the late nineteenth century to the present made it even more special.

In deference to his pedagogical side, Boukas prepared extremely detailed program notes on Choro in general and the composer and features of each piece specifically. To summarize briefly, the development of Choro in Brazil parallels the evolution of jazz in America in that a native music gradually merged with European music, producing something new. European trio dance forms and harmonies such as the chord patterns of the polka and minuet were mixed with Afro-Brazilian dances and syncopated rhythms.

The result is an intriguing and intoxicating music that seduces both classical and jazz music lovers due to its mix of European formality and jazz freedom, along with the unique syncopated rhythms of Brazil. As with jazz, the compositions are learned and memorized by the players so that creative improvisation, which takes place among all the players, soloists and accompanists alike, can occur during rodas (jam sessions) or saraus (soirées).

Thus, Choro as a music cannot be merely learned but must be lived. Boukas repeatedly emphasized the amount of preparation and rehearsal that went into this concert. In return, the students, taking their cue from Boukas and obviously loving the music, and gave their all. Based on this performance, there is no question that, with time, the music stands will disappear and these players will get completely inside Choro.

The program was ambitious, and despite the best of efforts, some pieces had to be cut due to time constraints. The initial nervousness that was evident at the start disappeared rather quickly and was replaced by joyous music-making that frequently took flight, culminating in the virtuosity of the last piece, "Um Choro Feliz," by the Portuguese pianist-composer Mário Laginha (b. 1960).

Boukas, while playing various guitars and directing with two students (whose hands, unfortunately, could not be seen due to the music stands), oversaw the proceedings. While the quality of the playing of the ensemble was high, there were three standouts deserving special mention.

This music needs rhythmic support that is solid and supple, providing the clarity, lilt and drive it demands. Electric bassist Amanda Ruzza has a dynamic stage presence, and was superb. She was clearly the most "inside" the music; that she is from Brazil and has already had many gigs showed. Percussionist Aaron Shafer-Haiss was impressive simply because he sounded so natural.

From the wind section, Lucas Pino, who played soprano saxophone, clarinet and flute, was the most confident soloist, but then again he is a senior, and he has a scholarship to attend Julliard for his masters.

Boukas deserves to be proud of the ensemble, and they of themselves. The time flew by, the audience was swaying. It was only too bad another group was scheduled at 9 PM, because the audience showed it wanted more. Choro lives!

The New School Brazilian Jazz Ensemble:

Alison Lang-McKinney: flute Ben Van Gelder: alto saxophone, flute Lucas Pino: soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute Amanda Ruzza: electric bass Aaron Shafer-Haiss: percussion, drums Micheal Valeanu:, 6 and 7 string classical guitar, cavaquinho Rotem Sivan:, 6 string classical guitar and cavaquinho José Valente Pereira: viola Richard Boukas, director, arrangements, 6 and 7 string classical guitar, cavaquinho

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