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Baden Powell: Tristeza on Guitar

Chris May By

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2018 is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the German jazz label MPS. To mark the occasion, the label's catalogue of over 400 albums has been released on download, and a vinyl and CD reissue programme has begun. Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell's Tristeza on Guitar is among the first of these discs. Originally released in 1966, it is an enduring treasure of twentieth-century Brazilian music.

Between 1966 and 1976, Powell recorded nine albums for MPS, all of them produced (with a light touch) by jazz scholar Joachim-Ernst Berendt. Tristeza on Guitar, recorded in Rio de Janeiro after Berendt had spent the best part of a week tracking the bohemian and elusive Powell down, was the first of these. The accompanying quintet is drawn from the crème de la crème of contemporary bossa nova/samba musicians and includes percussionist Alfredo Bessa and drummer Milton Banana. The album features various combinations of the musicians, from solo Powell through to the complete line-up.

As well as being a guitarist equipped with formidable technique, and blessed with a heap of soul, Powell was a gifted songwriter, and six of the ten pieces on this album are originals. Among them are the much covered "Canto de Xango" and "Canto de Ossanha," both featured earlier in 1966 on Os Afro Sambas de Baden e Vinicius (Forma), Powell's with-vocals chef d'oeuvre made with the poet and lyricist Vinicius de Moraes. The four non-originals are Thelonious Monk and Cootie Williams's "Round About Midnight," Haroldo Lobo's "Tristeza," Luiz Bonfa's "Manha De Carnaval" and Dorival Caymni's "Das Rosas."

Despite its title, the mood of Tristeza on Guitar is generally exuberant and celebratory. The notable exception is "Manha de Carnaval," made famous by Marcel Camus's 1959 movie, Black Orpheus, which is affectingly poignant. Upbeat, revisionist versions would be recorded in later years, but in 1966 the piece was still so closely associated with the movie that to recast it as a jolly romp would have been unthinkable. "Canto de Xango" and "Canto de Ossanha," dedicated to the orishas from which they take their titles, are otherworldly but vibrant. "Round About Midnight," one of two versions of the tune Powell recorded, and here played by just guitar and bass, evokes solitude, but not loneliness. "Tristeza" itself (not to be confused with Powell and de Moraes's "Tristeza e Solidao" from Os Afro Sambas) is more joyful than sad.

All Powell's MPS albums are the business, but this one, recorded in Brazil with a 100% Brazilian lineup two years before Powell moved permamently to France, has a special magic.

Track Listing: Side One: Tristeza; Canto de Xango; Round About Midnight; Sarava; Canto de Ossanha. Side Two: Manha de Carnaval; Invencao Em; Das Rosas; Som de Carnaval; O Astronauta.

Personnel: Baden Powell: guitar, agogo, surdo; Copinha: flute, agogo; Sergio: bass; Alfredo Bessa: atabaque, guica; Amauri Coelho: pandeiro, atabaque; Milton Banana: drums.

Title: Tristeza on Guitar | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: MPS

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