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Los Angeles Guitar Quartet – Brazil
Jorge BEN (b. 1942)
Mas Que Nada
(1963) (arr. William Kanengiser) [3:56]
Baden POWELL (1937-2000)
Samba Novo (1974) (arr. Marcus Tardelli) [3:27]
Antonio Carlos JOBIM (1927-94) / Vinicius DE MORAES (1913-80)
O Morro não tem vez (1954) (arr. Marcos Alves) [3:33]
Jobim Medley
Modinha (1958) (arr. Sergio Assad) [2:31]
A Felicidade (1959) (arr. Sergio Assad) [1:50]
Stone Flower (1970) (arr. Sergio Assad) [2:39]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
A Lenda do Caboclo (1920) (arr. Sergio Assad) [3:21]
Clarice ASSAD (b. 1978)
Bluezilian (2005) [3:04] 
Marco PEREIRA (b. 1950)
(2006) [6:07]
Matthew DUNNE (b. 1959)
Cafezinho (2007) [4:31]
Hermeto PASCOAL (b. 1936)
De Sábado pra Dominguinhos (1993) (arr. William Kanengiser) [4:34]
Raimundo PENAFORTE (b. 1961)
Prelúdio (2000) [2:46]
Gangorra (2000) [3:17]
Paulo BELLINATI (b. 1950)
Carlo's Dance (2001) [5:03]
A Furiosa (1989) [3:30]
Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (Matthew Greif, John Dearman, Scott Tennant, William Kanengiser); Luciana Souza (vocals, triangle, pandeiro); Katisse Buckingham (alto flute, flute, soprano sax); Kevin Ricard (percussion)
rec. 12-15 March 2007, Skywalker Sound, Marin County, California, USA
TELARC CD80686 [54:39]

This time it’s jazz, blues and funk but next time we’re promised Bach. Sound ambitious? Well that’s the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet for you. After 27 years and numerous recordings they have proved themselves to be a pretty eclectic bunch. And this disc is no exception. Inspired by their 2006 tour of Brazil with São Paulo-born jazz singer Luciana Souza, the LAGQ breeze through 90 years of Brazilian music, from Villa-Lobos to some recent pieces by Raimundo Penaforte and Paulo Ballinati.

It’s quirky, it’s infectious and it’s all good fun, starting with the freewheeling Mas Que Nada - plus alto flute and percussion. It  may have defined the ‘Brazilian sound’ in the early 1960s but this slick ensemble makes the music sound freshly minted.

And yes, the Brazilian guitar virtuoso Baden Powell (full name Baden Powell de Aquino) was named after the Scout leader. His Samba novo (Babel) has razor-sharp rhythms and some remarkably taut playing all round. At first I felt the instruments were too closely miked but the balance is pretty much ideal, with a good stereo spread and convincing perspective. This disc is also available as a multi-channel SACD, which probably opens out the sound stage even more.

The mood switches in Jobim’s O Morro não tem vez, a bluesy lament for the slum dwellers of Rio’s favellas. It’s anything but sombre though, and Marcos Alves’ arrangement preserves the music’s essential buoyancy and momentum. Modinha has a reflective, almost improvisatory quality; Luciana Souza’s natural, unexaggerated vocal style is very welcome, even in the much more animated Stone Flower. There is an ease to the music making, a palpable sense of close collaboration. Very precise and polished yet instinctively pitched just right.

We take a leap backwards to 1920 with the Villa-Lobos A Lenda do Caboclo (‘The Life of the Native’), a dark, haunting little meditation. Sergio Assad’s transcription is fine, if a touch monochromatic, but it doesn’t supplant the piano original in my affections.

No such problems with the multiplicity of colours in Clarice Assad’s Bluezilian. Written for the LAGQ it is a highly sophisticated mix of Brazilian and contemporary American forms, with a smoky jazz flavour.

Speaking of smoke, Ms Souza certainly fires up Sambadalú, written especially for her by Marco Pereira. Her scat singing is impressive without being showy, her low-key delivery blending well with the instrumentalists. The pandeira (a Brazilian tambourine) doesn’t add as much to the music as one might imagine and at just over six minutes I found the piece a little overlong. That said the guitar interlude at 3:27 is very atmospheric indeed.

Much more refreshing is Matthew Dunne’s ‘little cup of coffee’. No caffeine rush here, just plenty of sunshine and good company. There is a laid-back feel to this music that appeals from the outset; it’s full of colour and rhythmic vitality, too. Most enjoyable and, as always, played with great warmth and spontaneity.

By contrast Hermeto Pascoal’s oddly-titled De Sábado pra Dominguinhos (‘From Saturdays to Little Sundays’) is anything but relaxed. With its driving rhythms – and contributions from soprano sax, flute and percussion – the sense of well being is infused with renewed energy and focus. Despite its vigour the piece sounds a trifle bland; thankfully Katisse Buckingham’s perky sax adds some much-needed piquancy to the aural mix.

If you’re looking for something more stimulating the two pieces from Raimundo Penaforte’s Quartetice – written for the LAGQ – may not deliver it all at once. Prelúdio is moody and inward but with Gangorra we’re clearly in carnival mode. Kevin Ricard’s sinuous percussive lines are particularly invigorating but it’s the inventive and original guitar melodies that grab your attention. Just listen to that swirling little motif that returns again and again, to great effect. Surely some of the most beguiling sounds on this disc.

Originally written for electric bass and classical guitar Paulo Bellinati’s slinky, syncopated Carlo’s Dance – ostensibly a musical evocation of his son’s strange dancing style – is an affectionate little sketch full of warmth and humour. In fact that’s probably a good description of this collection as a whole. Bellinati’s bright, propulsive A Furiosa is despatched with the group’s usual finesse, the competing strands superbly delineated.

I haven’t enjoyed guitar music this much since I discovered the Heinrich Albert Duos earlier this year (review). But don’t be put off by what looks like another anodyne collection – the 1970s cover and booklet design don’t help – as this really is music making of a high order.

Dan Morgan 




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