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.
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.