Voltarol - related music

Friday, 8 August 2008

Sheer Brazilliance

I'm not one of those people who prefer the sound of vinyl to that of the CD - I won't bother to rehearse any arguments here because that's not the subject of this post - so I'm constantly on the lookout for CD reissues of favourite albums. As a consequence I was thumbing through my remaining LPs the other day looking for a particular piece of information when I came across Brazilliance Volume 1 by guitarist Laurindo Almeida and saxophonist and flautist Bud Shank. I bought this when it was reissued in the sixties but realised that I hadn't actually heard it for some 25 years or more. A brief scan of the track list fired up the memory and I was soon on line and searching. Sure enough it had been reissued and was available to buy (for those that are interested it's on World Pacific: CDP 7 96339 2). I listened to it again when it arrived the day before yesterday and immediately wished that I had replaced it years ago.

I have mentioned Laurindo Almeida before (The twang's not the thang). It was only when I read the sleeve notes for this album that I realised that he was (a) Brazilian and (b) that he did not play exclusively classical music. I immediately fell in love with this album, having recently heard and embraced bossa nova for the first time, but didn't realise that it had actually been recorded in 1953, predating the official birth of bossa nova by more than five years. Although it's not strictly a bossa nova album it has enough of the ingredients that went into that form to be clearly identified as a very close relative, in that it brings together Brazilian rhythms and West Coast or Cool School sensibilities. It is now generally agreed that many of the Rio de Janeiro based originators of bossa nova were strongly influenced by the harmonic approach of those jazz forms although at least one of their number - Carlos Lyra - wrote a song about it called Influência do Jazz which expressed a certain degree of unhappiness about this state of affairs.

A few years back I interviewed the Brazilian singer Mônica Vasconcelos in São Paulo for BBC Radio Cornwall's 'Sounds of Jazz' programme. When I asked her about the jazz influence she was not forthcoming. "We do what we do." she said, somewhat enigmatically, although it's interesting to note that her long term collaborator has been the superb German-born saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock.

Bud Shank must share equally in the praise for this album, because his openness to other musical forms (he also went on to collaborate with the great Japanese Koto player Kimio Eto) allowed him to adapt his approach to suit the music. It wasn't a forced fit, it was a genuine amalgamation of ingredients. Which is not to say that the accommodation was all one way - Laurindo Almeida had moved to the U.S.A. originally to join Stan Kenton's band, where a young Bud Shank was already beginning to make a name for himself. Although Almeida was never an improviser he was perfectly able to swing and to make what he played seem spontaneous. He had a definite feel for jazz and was to continue to collaborate with Shank on and off for the rest of his life.

Nobody has posted any of the material from this album to YouTube and I do not make links to free download sites, but here's something from Brazilliance Volume 2, which came out five years later

Here is a good example of Almeida's classical technique subtly transmuting into something else with this bossa version of Debussy's 'Claire de Lune' -

and here's Bud Shank playing his own composition, 'Elizete', on the 1963 'Brasamba' album that he made with - among others - Clare Fischer, Joe Pass and ex Jimmy Giuffre bassist Ralph Peña.

I could bang on some more about this - with hindsight - hugely significant album but I won't, except to observe that some of the tunes on the disc went in a lot deeper than I realised. When during my first visit to Brazil I heard Pixinguinhas classic choro composition 'Carinhoso' for the first time, I felt as if I had known it all my life, which of course I very nearly had. I hadn't made the connection with this album because the feel is a lot different and the title had been misspelled as 'Carinoso' on the original sleeve (and in fact the CD reissue has yet another spelling, giving it as 'Cariñoso').

I'm now inspired to pick up the bossa nova story in my next posting. Given that this year saw the 50th Anniversary of the 'New Thing' it seems only appropriate.

Regular readers of this blog will realise that I have, at last solved the mystery of how to embed the YouTube clips. I shall be revising all the previous entries over the next few weeks, which should make for a slightly less tedious viewing experience. Now if only I can solve the mystery of why the Blogger software sometimes won't let me format my paragraphs properly...