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In the mid-sixties bossa nova was the second most popular music after rock and roll, a situation that gave talented artists like Bola Sete exposure that otherwise might have been elusive. Like Charlie Byrd, another artist who paid the rent with Brazilian music, Sete combined formidable classical and flamenco chops with a jazz sensibility to create some truly wonderful recordings that are slowly making their way back into print. Tour de Force, an earlier reissue that combined two Sete albums, showcased a guitarist who couldn't be pigeonholed into a bossa nova format, as he was just as eager to do straight-ahead classical numbers as he was a tune from his native country.
As good as that recording was, Voodoo Village is even better. While on his earliest recordings Sete kept his influences distinct and separate, here his melds them into an interesting mélange on every track. While many bossa nova records were heavily orchestrated and sound dated today, Sete relies on a sparse trio setting for his recordings that keeps them fresh forty years later. Along with his usual fine playing and rhythmic sense, Sete shows a knack for creating lovely melodies, and most of the songs here are originals. "Lamento de Negro" is a tune Jobim would be proud to call his own, given an extra boost by the tasteful flute of Paul Horn, and "Cosolacao" is a lovely trio recording with shades of "So What." The only weak spot here is that some of the more extended improvisations like "Soul Samba" seem to go on until the tank just about runs dry, but they are balanced by brief, bouncy tunes that work within the bossa nova idiom without sounding derivative.
Sete's most famous association is his recordings with Vince Guaraldi, an artist from whom he clearly absorbed a gift for melody. However, it's good to see him get his due as an artist in his own right.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.