Voltarol - related music

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Christmas comes but once a year…

A rather nasty bout of sciatica has kept me from gigs for the last couple of weeks, and the imminent arrival of Christmas, coupled with our imminent departure to Brazil, has kept me too busy to blog. So, in the immortal words of Valerie Singleton – here’s one I prepared earlier. This first saw the light of day in a letter to some friends a couple of years ago and I offer it here as my only December posting this year.

Mrs Voltarol and I were busily engaged in some bloated post-Christmas couch-potatoing last January, when it suddenly occurred to me that there was a simple answer to the annual problem of severe yuletide distension. Well, yes. I know we don't have to eat all that stuff, but the trouble is that (A) I'm naturally greedy, and (B) Christmas is the one occasion when you are actually expected to pig out.

The same thing happens every year. At some point - around the end of August, normally - one or the other of us will come home and make an announcement along the lines of "Do you know, I've just seen Christmas cards on sale in W. H. Smiths?" or "I see Tesco's are doing a nice line in Yule logs.", and before you can say 'cholesterol' we are discussing what we will have to eat and drink this year. "Oh!" says Mrs V, "You must make another of your Christmas pork pies!" (a statement that does rather indicate a certain cultural versatility for a nice Jewish girl, I think you'll agree).

The next few months are regularly punctuated with conversational non-sequiturs. In the middle of a discussion about when to order our next batch of heating oil, I might announce "I think we should have a goose again this year". (At which point, predictably, Mrs V will take the first possible opportunity to catch me unawares.) Or perhaps she will suddenly interrupt her perusal of the day’s post to announce that she intends to try a different Christmas cake recipe this year, and that, oh, we really ought to bake two stöllen loaves this time so that we can use one of them to make our celebrated deluxe trifle. (That's the one with the home-made coffee blancmange, fresh fruit set in an apple-juice jelly, a generous slug of brandy in the base and a heap of whipped Greek yoghurt on top...).

The first bottle of 'cooking' brandy appears in the kitchen around about the end of November. This is specifically intended for use in the manufacture of Christmas pudding, Christmas pudding ice-cream, Christmas cake, the feeding of the Christmas cake and, of course, pâté. That's the theory anyway. In practice I'm not quite sure about what happens. I mean, theoretically we used four bottles this year on the cake alone. In this house, the term 'cake stand' refers to ones deportment after 'feeding' the Christmas cake. A person returning from the kitchen after dealing with this chore, who is seen to be a bit rubbery round the knees, is said to be 'doing a cake stand'.

Then, of course, there's the booze proper: a suitable selection of wines to accompany each course of each meal for three days, some other bottles of wine to keep you going between times when you don't actually fancy a more substantial drink, substantial drink - Armagnac, Malt Whisky and Calvados, additional drink to cater for visitors with other preferences - Scotch, Vodka, Gin, Sherry, appropriate mixers, some bottles of cider, a few beers, a few lagers and a can or two of 'draught' Guinness. (Oops! Nearly forgot the Port.) All of these are assembled and stashed in the spare room.

By December 24th we experience the onset of "Christmas 'fridge". The first symptoms of this dreadful complaint are easy to spot. You open the door of the refrigerator and something falls out. You attempt to replace it but for some reason only explicable by means of the more esoteric reaches of quantum physics it will no longer fit into the space from whence it came. You then remove the entire contents of the 'fridge and start from scratch, this time to discover that the internal dimensions of the container have mysteriously shrunk yet again, and you now have two bottles of milk, a carton of cream and a bowl of cold potatoes left over from yesterday's meal that can no longer be accommodated. So you go back to square one. By the time you have finally succeeded in cramming all the stuff back in, the 'fridge temperature has risen by about fifteen degrees. The next time you look inside it appears that the little man that lives in there and turns the light off when you shut the door has been stricken with severe incontinence. But I digress.

So what with the goose and the trifle and the cake and the pudding and the paté and the stöllen and a nice ham and a decent piece of beef and the pork pie and a brace of pheasant and all the ingredients for a cassoulet with the left-over goose and the home-made petit-fours and the crystallised fruit and the bowls of nuts and satsumas and the Bendick's Bittermints and the piece of stilton and the lump of Mr's Appelby's Cheshire and the truckle of matured farm-house cheddar and the fromage de chevre and the fromage frais and the Greek yoghurt and the single cream and the double cream and the clotted cream and the plain chocolate Bath Olivers and the brandy butter and all the booze, not to mention a number of suspiciously bottle-shaped packages lurking under the Christmas tree, you suddenly realise that you're going to be very hard pressed to dispose of all the food and drink within the alloted time span unless an unexpected guest turns up for Christmas, such as, say, Oxfam.

So where did I start all this? Oh Yes. The simple idea. Instead of having Christmas annually, why not have twelve smaller Christmases evenly distributed through the year, and divide up the specific treats equally between them. Well, it's a thought.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

As I was going to St Ives…

Pete Oxley (left) and Luis D'Agostino

…I met two men with four guitars. No, I know it doesn’t scan, and if you really want to be pedantic I know that many claim that the original rhyming riddle actually refers to St Ives, Cambridgeshire and not St Ives Cornwall, but sometimes you just get stuck for a title and an opening line…

Anyway, Mrs Voltarol and I made our way down the A30 to the excellent St Ives Jazz Club on Tuesday night, to see one of my favourite guitar duos – Luis D’ Agostino and Pete Oxley. The weather was particularly filthy that evening – the gusting winds were causing our car to skitter somewhat alarmingly and the rain was coming towards us sideways – and as a consequence the club was emptier than I have seen it for a while. When I commented on the weather conditions to Pete he admitted that he had had just about enough of rain for the moment, as he and Luis had started their tour in Cumbria! (For my overseas readers I should point out that Cumbria has just experienced what have been referred to as ‘once in a thousand years’ flooding.)

The pair had teamed up when Luis - who is from Argentina – was living in Oxford for a while. They recorded two CDs together on the 33Jazz Records label: The Play of Light (2003) and Double Singular (2006). I have been a fan of Pete’s playing and compositions for some time and had often seen his band Curious Paradise and its predecessors, but it wasn’t until early in 2008 that I caught up with the duo when they played an excellent set at one of the much-missed Foundry Bar music nights in Hayle. Imagine my dismay when I learned that Luis was returning to Argentina and I had just witnessed one of the duo’s last gigs. Equally, imagine my delight when Pete phoned me recently and told me that Luis was coming back to England for a few weeks and that they would be touring together again.

Those that stayed at home because of the weather last Tuesday deprived themselves of a great treat. The pair were on excellent form and delivered the goods from the off. The eclectic programme included material by such diverse composers as Lee Morgan, Joni Mitchell, Egberto Gismonti, Pat Metheny, Astor Piazzolla, Miles Davis, Luis Borda and Mr Oxley himself.

The arrangements were often as interesting as the tunes themselves, and the pair switched back and forth between nylon string and steel string guitars, insuring that the overall sound of the instruments never palled. They finished the evening to rapturous applause despite the smaller than usual audience, and the number of people that left the gig clutching one or more of their CDs tends to point to a more than satisfied crowd. So – when Luis next returns to England and the duo make another tour don’t miss the chance to see them if they are performing within a hundred miles of you. Believe me, it’ll be well worth the effort. Oh, and I've just heard a rumour that they may be recording another live album whilst Luis is here, so watch this space for a review.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Brazil goes to Dalston

At the beginning of last week I made a flying visit to London for the Violeiros do Brasil gig that I wrote about in my last posting. Dalston seems an unlikely venue for such an event but the Café Oto in Ashwin Street came as a pleasant surprise. It was large enough to accomodate the audience, had reasonable acoustics and sold bottles of wine at affordable prices. What more could a person want? On top of that I had arranged to meet up with my old mate Nobby (who will be known to readers of this blog as Dendron the Roadie, long suffering road manager to The Jugular Vein back in the '60's). Accompanying him was his long time partner Chrissie  who is a jazz journalist, and I was very interested in how they would respond to the evening's music

The proceedings kicked off with the showing of excerpts from Myriam Taubkin and Sérgio Roizenblit's documentary film - Violeiros do Brasil, which Myriam herself introduced. I was already acquainted with this excellent movie as I own it on DVD, but it helped introduce an unfamiliar audience to the instrument - the viola or ten string guitar - and the two artists that were performing that night, Ivan Vilela and Pereira da Viola. (I thoroughly recommend that you buy or rent this DVD. As well as some great music it contains some wonderful scenes of the Brazilian landscape which will give you a much better sense of the country than endless images of Rio de Janeiro - however fascinating Rio might be, it's not all there is to Brazil.)

First on to the stage was Ivan Vilela, whose modest demeanour belies his sublime musicianship. His set included material from a number of Brazilian composers including Edu Lobo, as well as some of his own compositions and a surprising but exquisite 'Eleanor Rigby'.

He was followed by Pereira Da Viola who sang as well as played, and whose material was on the whole a little less cerebral than Vilela's. But it was none the less engaging for that, and as a player he was most impressive. They came together at the end and played a few things together, much to the delight of the crowd ( which included a large number of ex-pat Brazilians) and left the stage to prolonged applause.

After the performance I was able to record a brief conversation with Myriam Taubkin, and to talk to her about herself and the project. Here is a transcription:-

Voltarol: I know from talking to your brother Benjamin that you come from a very musical family. Were you born in São Paulo?

Myriam Taubkin: Yes I was.

V: I know you from your production work and your promotional and archiving activities but did you play or sing?

MT: Yes. I was a singer when I was really young. From a child of seven, eight, nine until my thirties. I was a professional and I loved to sing – but not to be a singer. I didn’t like to be a singer as a professional career. I loved to sing, but maybe because I was a producer at the same time. I received the words of all the singers and composers when I used to work in public institutions – I had to wait for people to tell me if what I did was good. That’s not my way. I used to listen to all the criticism and take it to heart, so I chose to be a producer! And I think that in Brazil my way is different. I don’t represent anyone. I’m not an agent for anyone, including my brothers. Both of them are musicians. I don’t like to sell musicians. I like to invite them to my projects. So – this work of musical curator and musical director is a whole conception of a spectacular concert, the lighting, the clothes, entrances and exits – everything – I think about everything. You know, Benjamin presented a big concert in São Paulo last week, in a marvellous venue, with twenty musicians on the stage. And Benjamin is a marvellous musician but – how can you say – it was not finished. The presentation was not right and he invited me to do this, to produce it. There were many musicians and a narrator, so I was responsible for that conception, for everything…and this is what I love to do.

V: I understand completely. I am a musician – sort of – and I love to make music and I have played professionally, but I often think that at heart I’m more of a punter - a customer for music. So I bring this to music. I used to work in record shops and I loved introducing new stuff to people – “Have you heard this? Have you heard that?” From there I went on to run clubs and to promote concerts and festivals…

MT: To convince people to listen…

V: Exactly…so I understand exactly where you are coming from. It’s that complete involvement in music but coming at it from a different direction. Yes, I can make music but what really pleases me is to get other people to get the same joy from music that I get – which is why I now write my blog and continue to promote music. I think we are similar people in that respect.

I first noticed your name on the ‘Arranjadores’ (arrangers) CD, which was a Projeto Memória Brasileira (Brazilian Memory Project) release in 1992. Where you the founder of the project?

MT: Yes, I founded it. It was my concept. My first project was in 1987. It was ‘Memorias Piano Brasiliero’ - Brazilian Piano Memory – with eleven popular Brazilian pianists. This was the first one. The second one was in 1989. This was guitars. This was called ‘Violões’. ‘Arrangers’ was third. And then Violeiros do Brasil which was in 1997. So now for this documentary - ‘Violeiros do Brasil’ DVD – and for the book we have produced, we went back to the same musicians from the 1997 CD, to see how they improve, and how they live today. This was fantastic because I had the opportunity to enter into their…um…how do you say…intimidade?

V: Their private lives…?

MT: Yes. And I knew all of them very well, so I was at home and it was fantastic.

V: Yes. In the documentary it comes across that they are very comfortable talking to the camera, and it feels as if you are participating in a conversation with friends. It’s a lovely atmosphere, and every time I watch it I get big saudades* for Brazil!

MT: Ah! (Laughs) Thank you!

V: So. As I understand the project you are documenting various aspects of Brazilian music – specialist areas. I have the Arrangers, the guitars, the violas…

MT: The accordions, the percussion…

V: Ah. Well that I don’t have. I have the accordion – the Sanfona of São Paulo and,,,

MT: Rio Grande do Sul…

V: Yes…which I love. I was converted to a love of the accordion by Brazilian musicians. I used to think that hell for musicians would be full of accordions and banjos but then I heard Sivuca and…

MT: Dominguinhos?

V: Yes! And Toninho Ferragutti…and I suddenly realised that the problem is not the accordion or the banjo or the bagpipes. It is who plays it. And it is the musical soul of that person.

MT: That’s it! And you know that this project is not only to record the old people, the masters, but modern stuff also – what’s going on now. But you know the Viola - this instrument has a marvellous future because there is no instrument that is quite the same, and it came to Brazil with no rules - from one land to another. So if you are a young musician and you want to play the viola you can discover it and you can find out …a lot of new things that no one before him has done...There is nothing written down about how to play. All the other instruments have this. So this is why the viola for me is so fantastic. I’m not so preoccupied with the tradition…but the way they play now…the 21st century. This is what I feel.

V: One of the things that fascinates me about Brazilian musicians generally, is that they don’t seem to be too bothered by musical boundaries, by musical compartments. Many great players seem to move freely between folk – traditional music – and jazz and popular music. They don’t see walls, and we saw that this evening. Some of the music played was very traditional and some was very harmonically advanced, very sophisticated and yet the elements come together beautifully. You seem to see this as an aspect of the viola, but it seems to me more a function of Brazilian musicality that comes to fruition with the viola because it is an unwritten book – it is a blank sheet.

MT: You know, the classical composers in Brazil have always had a sense of traditional music so the frontier, the meeting point between classical and popular music in Brazil…there is no frontier I think. You can cross over…because the traditional music in Brazil – the Lundu, the Modinha, Samba, Coco, Maracatu – is too strong for inspiration. The roots, the musical culture is so strong that it inspires the musicians to begin here and then open up because in Brazil we are a new people, another kind of people, completely different. And I think that music expresses this.

V: Ok. One last question. In England we have a radio programme called Desert Island Discs, where you are cast away on a desert island and have to choose which eight records you would take with you. I am much crueller than that and I will only let you take one. What would it be?

MT: One? Only one?

V: Yes, one. Come on. The ship is going down. All your CDs are around you. You only have ten seconds to get out of there! Grab one! What would it be?

MT: It’s very difficult…

V: I know! That’s the whole point!

MT: I think Milton Nascimento. Clube da Esquinha.

V: That’s great Thank you very much. I’ve enjoyed this evening and I’ve enjoyed our conversation.

MT: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

*saudades: no direct English equivalent but a kind of bitter-sweet nostalgic longing

Friday, 23 October 2009

When is a viola not a viola?

In England we know the viola to be a larger kind of violin, but in Brazil the viola is a ten string guitar, with the strings in five courses of two. It is, I think, a close relative of the Portuguese guitar, but has taken on a distinctly Brazilian identity and adherents can be found all over that country. I first came across it on a CD compilation of purely instrumental music that was recommended to me in one of my favourite São Paulo CD shops – Pops Discos.

The compilation - which came out in 1995 -was called Sem Palavras (without words) and had quite a bit of material from artists that I knew as well as stuff that was new to me.

One of the latter was a track called O Ganso (The Goose), written and performed by one Almir Sater and it grabbed my attention because it was so different to what I had come to expect from Brazilian music. The only details on the CD were of the artists and composers so I was under the impression that I had been listening to a twelve-string guitar until a couple of years later when I acquired a CD called Violeros do Brasil, and there was Almir Sater playing what I now know to be the Viola. Here's a clip of him performing the piece on a Brazilian TV show in 2008

This new CD, issued in 1999 was another Núcleo Contemporâneo production which I bought purely on the strength of the label’s track record (which I have written about before on this blog - see A random selection) and I was not disappointed. Here was a whole bunch of viola players – or violeiros – and everyone was a virtuoso. Wonderful stuff!

Then last Christmas a package arrived from Brazil. It was a Christmas present from my ex-daughter-in-law, Marilia, with whom Mrs Voltarol and I are still on the very best of terms, and consisted of two DVDs and two CDs. As Marilia has been one of my two principal guides into the world of Brazilian music (the other being Woody of Boogiewoody Blog fame), I was excited to see what gems she had found for me this time. The first thing out of the box was the Violeiros do Brasil DVD  (see picture at top of page) and it went on the player there and then. It’s a beautiful film featuring all of the artists that appear on the CD of the same name, playing and talking about their music. Each one is filmed at or near the home of the artist so there is some breathtaking scenery in with that great music. Here is a promotional video that will give you a good idea of what it's all about

I am returning to Brazil in January and had already planned to seek out some of these performers if any of them were giving concerts around the São Paulo area. Imagine my delight then when I discovered that two of them will be appearing in London next month! Myriam Taubkin (sister of Benjamin) is the director of the Projeto Memória Brasileira and was the prime instigator of the Violeros do Brasil DVD. She will be introducing a short documentary film, followed by a performance by Ivan Vilela and Pereira da Viola at Café Oto in Dalston on the 10th November. Needless to say, I have already booked my tickets. See you there!

There are also concerts in Cambridge and Whitstable. Here are the details:-

Fri 13th NOV in Whitstable, Kent - FILM + CONCERT WITH IVAN VILELA
8pm   £ 8 / £6 (concs)  St. Peter's Church, Sydenham Street, Whitstable CT5 1HN
More information: 07515 348532
Tickets from Harbour Books, 21, Harbour St & Herbaceous, Oxford St Whitstable).

MAA: Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology University of Cambridge
Downing Street Cambridge CB2 3DZ

Monday, 19 October 2009

Crossing the tracks...

Since I started working my way through the Beatles back catalogue again I have been cross-referencing various tracks with versions that I already have by other people. A quick look at Youtube revealed the fact that some of my favourites are up there so I thought I'd post a few.

First off here's Assagai performing Hey Jude. The accompanying images are a bit bizarre to say the least, but the music is great. I first put a link to this on my blog in a posting called Mama Africa part 2 back in July 2008 but I hadn't learnt how to embed the clips at that point. For more information about the band and about African musical influences in general have a look at that posting and its predecessor called - not unsurprisingly - Mama Africa part 1

Next up is the Brazilian singer Rita Lee, who first gained fame in her home country with the highly influential band Os Mutantes (The Mutants). Although she was born in São Paulo her father was American and she grew up speaking English as well as Portuguese. In 2001 she made a Beatles 'covers' album called Aqui, ali, em qualquer lugar (Here, there and everywhere), which was released in the US under the rather dreadful title of  Bossa n' Beatles. Here's my favourite track from this album - Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

There is also a live version available which was recorded at a concert in Argentina which I include here, but in my opinion the original studio version outclasses it by a mile...

Finally, here's Jaco Pastorius's superb arrangement of Blackbird, from the first Word of Mouth album. It features the superb Toots Theilemans on chromatic harmonica. (See Bass thoughts for further information and clips.)

That's it for the moment. I should be back up to more regular postings again quite soon but - be warned - I have had several requests for more information about the doings in and around 'The Pastie Maker's Arms' (see Post-holiday Blues). I may well feel the need to oblige with further tales of life in Polpott from time to time...

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Post-holiday Blues

That's everybody else's holidays - not mine. When you live as I do in a popular tourist area, one tends to sigh with relief at the end of the season and the mood in one's local boozer changes more than somewhat. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent...

It has been a quiet week here in Polpott. The Emmet harvest has finally been gathered in and stored in the Midlands, and life has become a tad quieter for the local populace. Weary B. & B. propietors assemble nightly in 'The Pastie Maker's Arms' to swap stories of the season's doings over foaming tankards of gin and tonic, and the air is heavy with the heady scent of overworked barmaid's armpits. Old Denzil sits in the corner and pontificates. He is hurriedly escorted from the room and Ron, the landlord, manages to clear up most of the mess ....

Big George, who is generally considered to be the richest farmer - if not actual person - in the area, tugs at the baler twine which keeps his coat together, then orders a pint of Byle. Big George is extremely hirsute as well as being tall and stout, but despite his chubbiness has a sharp little nose, and eyes that are set quite close together. Unkind people in the village say that being spoken to by Big George is like being addressed by a rat that is peering out of a bear's bottom (or words to that effect), but, being generally as prudent as they are churlish, they do not say it to his face.

"One pint of Byle's best bitter coming up." says Ron, taking Big George's Tankard down from where it hangs on the beam, and drawing off a foaming mugful from the spigot. "Any food tonight, Big George?"
Ron is extraordinarily proud of his food. A large sign outside the pub proclaims 'GOOD FOOD. Today's Special:' at the top and 'PUB GRUB' at the bottom. The area between the slogans consists of a square of blackboard paint onto which Ron chalks news of the day's offerings. Ron is an amiable soul despite being a tidge hen-pecked, but grammar, syntax and the use of the apostrophe are not his strong suits. As a consequence some of his culinary offerings seem a little bizarre at first glance. A local wag set the N.S.P.C.C. on him recently when the sign read: 'Sunday Lunch - Roast Pork and all the trimmings: £2.95. Children £1.50 including pudding".

Big George twangs at his baler twine (or 'farmer's weld' as it is known locally), hefts the waistband of his jeans back over his gut then nods in the direction of Sylvia, Ron's wife, who has just entered the bar bearing a laden tray. "Wha's that? I might 'ave some o' that" he says.
Someone has put money in the Juke-box. A song blasts out at ear shattering volume. Ron hastily dives under the bar and fumbles with unseen controls until the decibels drop to a comfortable level.
"What's that bloody racket?" enquires Old Denzil, who has just come back from the Gent's.
"That's a Bonnie Tyler is that." says Sylvia, who secretly fancies herself as a bit of a singer, back-combs her long peroxided hair, and is much given to wearing stonewashed stretch-denim jeans and high-heeled white boots.
"Ar..." replies Old Denzil, "It might be able ter tile but it can't bloody sing. Give us another Pernod and cider Ron, will yer?"

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Me and 'The Lads'

My good friend Mike is a bit of a Beatles fan to say the least and since I’ve started writing this blog he has asked me more than once – “Do you think you’ll be writing anything about ‘The Lads’? Well Mike, the time has come and this has been indirectly prompted by the release yesterday of the complete remastered Beatles’ recordings. I say ‘indirectly’ because I probably wouldn’t be writing this if another Beatle enthusiast friend of mine hadn’t just splashed out on a complete set of the new issues. Big Al (for it was he), knowing that I was fond of their work and only owned two of their albums, has just donated his complete collection of the previous versions to me. Thanks Al! Anyway, it all set me to thinking about the Fab Four and how they affected me.

As I’ve related elsewhere in these pages (see Pop and Me) I was never really a pop music enthusiast, so I was somewhat underwhelmed by the first Beatles singles. I do remember though that I was quite impressed by their TV appearances and thought that there was something a bit different about them. Even though at that time they were including a few show tunes in their stage repertoire, they did not have the cheesiness of Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele and the like. One did not get a sense with The Beatles their music was just a stepping stone to full ‘showbiz’ careers. There were no cries of “I want to become an all-round entertainer” as parodied so wonderfully in the 1950’s Peter Sellers sketch “So little time” written by Frank Muir and Denis Norden.

The first single that actually grabbed my attention was ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’. I liked the way the melody developed into an interesting bridge and I liked the harmonies and the riffs – although not enough to actually buy it. But that record put them firmly on my radar and from then on I was a Beatle watcher.

I got a job in a record shop in 1964 (see (High) Street Life) and one of the first albums I promoted was 'A Hard Day's Night'. (I can't give you a link for this. One of the quirks of the Blogger/Wikipedia relationship is the inability of Blogger to make sense of Wiki links that contain apostrophes. Someone might like to investigate that...) This was definitely a musical step forward and the album was frequently on the shop turntable. I also went to see the movie ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Hard_Day's_Night_(film) see previous observations about apostrophes!) and found it hugely enjoyable. No Summer Holiday this: it felt quite real and unshowbizzy, and the black and white cinematography gave it a great atmosphere. I watched it again recently and still found it highly likeable some 45 years later.

Beatles for Sale, Help, Rubber Soul and Revolver followed - each better than its predecessor. The film of Help itself was poor by comparison with ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, and certainly didn’t stand the test of time for me when I tried to watch it again recently. I kicked it into touch after about 40 minutes. But then came the masterwork – Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Cub Band.

By June 1967 I was in a band myself and working regularly (see Music in a jugular vein). All four band members assembled at Muff (the jug player)’s house and listened to the album together. Muff owned a better hi fi system than the rest of us – a Bang and Olufsen turntable and amplifier with a pair of Radford speakers – and we sat on the sofa in a row, like an audience in a theatre whilst we listened awestruck to the album. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight I now think that ‘Revolver’ has the edge on ‘Pepper’ as far as the music goes, but the record-making process was completely reinvented by that album.

Those for me were the ‘Glory Days’. Their remaining output was never quite in the same class as the music from 'Rubber Soul' onwards, although it still stood head and shoulders above everything else that was happening at that time – or at least, that’s how I felt about it then. Thanks to Big Al I am now about to embark on a marathon revisit to their material and I shall be writing about it in the very near future. Now, where did I put that Beatle jacket?

Thursday, 27 August 2009

You play rhythm and I’ll play lead…

Now that I’m playing as part of an acoustic guitar duo again I’ve been thinking about the form generally, and its influence on me. I suppose that like most of my guitar-playing peers, my first experience was having a friend who was also learning to play and sitting down with him to strum chords together, but the first recorded duets I heard were by Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson. They were very exciting for me because they featured acoustic instruments and the music was blues based. As a consequence I felt that – if I really worked at it – I might be able to play that stuff one day. Here’s an example – this is Lang and Johnson playing ‘Blue Room’, recorded around 1929.

The next duo recording I heard was a track from the famous Davy Graham EP – ‘3/4 AD’. This featured Graham in an eponymous duet with Alexis Korner. As far as I know neither player recorded much in the guitar duo format apart from this, but it was another eye-opener for me and first gave me a sense of the idea of musical conversations. There is no clip available but a look at the original sleeve notes by Alexis Korner does shed some light on the proceedings.

Bert Jansch and John Renbourn were both influenced by Davy Graham, both signed to Transatlantic Records and both emerged on the London scene at around the same time, so it was inevitable that they would end up recording together. Their most famous project was the group ‘Pentangle’, but before that they made a duo album entitled Bert and John that was influential in its own right and spawned many an acoustic guitar duo in and around the sixties folk circuit. Here’s ‘Lucky Thirteen’ from that album, which was recorded in 1965.

I listened to a lot of music over the next thirty years or so, including a lot of jazz guitar duos. I also had several acoustic guitar duos myself, notably a partnership with the late John McCartney (who was better known as a superb electric bass player), The Blue Five with Leigh Heggarty, and a previous collaboration with my current musical partner – Chris White, but I didn’t hear another notable recording of the format until my second visit to Brazil in 1996/97. I was lying on the floor of a jazz bar-come-CD shop in Sâo Paulo at about eleven o’clock one night (for reasons that are too complicated to go into now but involve a free bottle of Cachaça) when I first heard Notenstock and was enchanted by them. Strictly speaking they were a trio, as the two French guitarists – Michel Jules and Stéphane Sarlin - were accompanied by Brazilian percussionist Luiz Carlos de Paula, but the music would have worked perfectly well without the percussion so it fits the bill as far as I’m concerned!

I have never come across anyone else in this country who knows their work and I haven’t been able to find much information on line, but I do know that their first album – ‘A Coté du Soleil’ was recorded in 1992, and a second album - ‘Live in Vienne’ – featured bassist Abraham Laboriel as a guest and was recorded in 1993. I know that the group were still playing in the later nineties because my son and his then-wife saw them in a club in Sâo Paulo and got a signed copy of the second CD, although sadly the line up had changed due to the early death of Michel Jules. I’ve only been able to find one example of their work on line – a tune from the first album entitled ‘Libra Livre’. You can listen to it here.

My next example is a couple of Brazilian guitarists who go under the name of Duofel. They have been playing together for over twenty five years and their musical range is as astonishing as some of their techniques. I have to thank my ex-daughter-in-law for bringing them to my attention. If you are interested in acoustic music that really explores new territory then I would urge you to go out and find their recordings. As an incentive, here’s ‘Norwegian Wood’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ as you’ve probably never heard them before…

There are many other guitar duos out there that I haven’t mentioned, but the rest of my favourites are not exclusively acoustic – and that was the brief I set myself for this particular posting. I enjoy the work of Pete Oxley and Lusi D' Agostino for example, but they also play electric guitar. In fact, I can feel another posting coming on, dedicated to all the jazz guitar duos. Right. I’m off to trawl through my CDs again.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Voltarol rides again!

Thanks to Jules for the picture

After an arthritis driven lay-off I have just played my guitar in public for the first time in three years. Many would say that my absence from public performance was no great loss but for me, my return to playing was quite a significant moment. I have had arthritis in my hands for about nine years now, and for the last five or six of them there has been an increasing tendency for them to lock up at unlikely moments. At first this would only happen after quite a few hours of continuous playing but then it began to happen more frequently. Eventually the inevitable happened and they locked up in mid chord change, mid gig.

Despite having a total involvement with music from quite an early age (see the various autobiographical postings of this blog) I have never had great manual dexterity. Most of my more dexterous friends acquired their initial guitar playing skills quite rapidly and I was left way behind, but – as with the tortoise and the hare – my consistent plodding eventually got me to a standard that I was not ashamed of and I went on to play with some damn good musicians. So when the inevitable happened and I could no longer rely on my hands, I took the decision to stop playing guitar and switched to my other discipline, percussion.

The guitar, which had been a more or less constant part of my life for the last 48 years, was now something I didn’t even want to look at. Instead of being kept on a stand in my living room where I could pick it up whenever the fancy took me – which had been about once every half hour – it was returned permanently to its case and stashed under the bed. For the next two years I continued to convince myself that – since I could no longer play to the standard that I had been capable of, there was no point in playing at all. Then one day I just said ‘sod it’ and got the guitar out again.

At first I struggled. My fingers had lost their calluses as well as their flexibility, but I would play for ten or fifteen minutes at a stretch and within a couple of months I was playing for anything up to an hour at a time. I realised how much I had missed it and also that, provided that I didn’t attempt to play fast jazz changes any more, my hands were no longer locking up. Eventually I felt ready to play with someone else again and gave an old mate a call. He and I had played guitar duets together on and off over the last twenty odd years, and we’d also been in bands together during that time. We got together one evening for a session and were soon playing once a week and assembling a repertoire.

Last Wednesday we toddled along to a local pub that was running an acoustic evening and we played four numbers to a mildly receptive crowd. I made a few mistakes and we didn’t set the world on fire, but ultimately it was far more important to me than anything I’ve done in a long time and I realised that I had just leapt over a major psychological barrier and landed safely. I’m already looking forward to the next gig and am playing with a lot more freedom and originality than I have for a long time. The only downside is that someone videoed the performance and, watching the footage, I realise how much face pulling I do when I’m playing…

Friday, 31 July 2009

An Interview with Benjamin Taubkin

Last Tuesday night I was at The Vortex jazz club in London for the Benjamin Taubkin gig. He’s been something of a hero of mine for some time (see previous posting) so I was very pleased to be able to interview him after the performance. It goes without saying that I had a very enjoyable night. The first set was played solo but the second set featured two guest artists – both of whom I knew from promoting them in the past. First up was percussionist Adriano Adewale who I know from his involvement with the band Caratinga. Adriano played most of the second set and produced some very interesting duets with Benjamin, who has a great affinity with percussionists. They were joined for the last two numbers by singer Mônica Vasconcelos, who I met and interviewed in São Paulo about ten years ago, and whose band, Nóis, I subsequently put on in Cornwall.

Benjamin, a native of São Paulo, was extremely well received and was obviously fairly tired after his performance but nevertheless found time for the following interview

Voltarol: My understanding is that your music combines elements of jazz, classical music, choro, samba etc. Do you think about music in these different terms or as a whole thing?

Benjamin: As a whole. For me it’s a whole…for me music is one thing. I listen to Beethoven, to Schuman, to Schubert the same way I listen to traditional music or even good pop music. Music for me is one. Of course you have different kinds of things…if I go out it doesn’t make sense in a bar to listen to a symphony - or if you go to a party – and of course you need a different kind of attention to listen to more introspective music, but for me music is one and I digest all the language

V: So it’s like language in effect. It’s a constant conversation – you’re talking with people musically…

B: Yes. All the time! And it’s the same thing as words. You use the words for different meanings but it’s one language.

V: You obviously come from a very musical family. What was the first music that you listened to?

B: My mother. She used to sing and play the piano and when I was really young – about three years old – she used to sing and I used to sit and listen to her. And I loved it, because she told stories with this music. And I thank her…thank her. So since then I started to listen to a lot of music. And then my father – he wasn’t a musician at all. His passion was for books, for poetry, but when I was six years old he bought a tape recorder and he bought GershwinPorgy and Bess, he bought West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein…so I started to listen to a lot of music very young.

V: In amongst the classical influences am I right in detecting Debussy?

B: Um -Ye-es…but I listen much more to the Romantics – to Beethoven, to Brahms than to Debussy. I think that this influence of Debussy came more from Bill Evans or stuff like that…and from Tom Jobim maybe, more than listening directly to him.

V: What sort of age were you when you first started focusing on music?

B: Eighteen. I started very late. I started thinking I really wanted to play piano when I was eighteen years old. It was a funny thing because no one wanted to give me classes because the good teachers said I was too old to become a piano player, so I decided to go by myself…so I self taught in this sense but of course I learned from everybody.

V: Did go straight to the piano or did you start with other instruments.

Straight to the piano.

V: …and you never did any of that thing, of having a teenage band…

B: No. I loved music but I didn’t play with others.

V: Are their any particular musicians or composers that you would say had a particular influence on you?

B: Yes. In Brazil Egberto Gismonti, Hermeto Pascoal, Tom Jobim – after Bossa Nova mostly – especially two records: ‘Urubu’ and ‘Matita Pere’, these were very important for me, these were the musicians from Brazil. And of course Bill Evans, Keith Jarret these two piano players…and then traditional music, choro music…a lot of music. I continue to listen to a lot of music. I’m very open.

V: Yes. My daughter just played me the latest Caetano album and he’s playing with a very pared down, very modern sound with a lot of electronics going on…but it’s still Caetano…it’s still good music happening there, and I find it very interesting that – here’s a guy that’s older than me and I’m 64 as near as dammit –

B: He’s 66 – no, 67.

V: …and he’s always up for something new…and it’s not just for the sake of it…

B: No. He’s alive!

V: You obviously enjoy musical collaborations.

B: Very much. I am doing this all the time. I just came from Morocco. I played with musicians from there – Moroccan musicians – and I already played in my life with musicians from India, from Africa. I have projects with South American musicians. I am part now of six different groups. I am all the time inviting musicians to play together…and now I have a concert in November and besides playing my own project in this concert I have invited a hip-hop group and also a traditional group from Pernambuco.

V: And do you have a list of people that you want to work with?

B: Some of them…there is one percussion player that I particularly want to work with…

V: You seem to have an affinity with percussionist as well, which is unusual because your piano style is a very lyrical one. But you work with them very well.

B: You know, I have the time all the time. Inside me all the time is (he mimics the sound of a pandeiro) so the time is always running…so it’s very easy for me to play with percussion. As you know, the Orquestra – the Popular Chamber Orchestra – we had four percussionists.

V: Yes. Four very good percussionists! Will we be seeing any more of Orquestra Popular de Câmara or is that a finished project?

B: No. It’s not finished but we gave a time because it was ten years doing it and we felt we began to be a cover of ourselves, because the group became quite popular in São Paulo so we had a lot of invitations and a lot of gigs but I sensed that we were copying ourselves and I didn’t like that…So I am doing a new project orchestra which has some musicians from the first one… but we will be back some time.

V: I know you’ve worked a lot with Teco Cardoso

B: …yes, a great musician…

V: …and Mônica Salmaso, whose voice you used a lot. That was really interesting, the way that you used it…but also you have another side to you which is that you are a very sympathetic accompanist.

B: Yes, I love to accompany. I played with Mônica for nine years and I played with another singer - Zizi Possi - for five years.

V: Normally, when musicians start record labels it’s to promote themselves because they can’t get the big companies interested, but your label, Núcleo Contemporâneo, seems to have been created for a bigger purpose than that. It’s not just for you. You seem to see a much bigger musical picture.

B: Yes. When we started it was with the idea of producing a lot of things. Nowadays I’m more focussed on producing my own music but this is mostly because of the way that the market is. I realised that I had to be focussed on one thing so nowadays I am more focussed on my music and the projects that I’m doing – with a lot of musicians of course – but the initial Idea wasn’t that. It was to be the place for this kind of music and for a lot of people.

V: Well if it makes you feel better… I realised quite early on that anything I bought that was on your label was always good and because I’m always trying to learn about the music, whenever I saw a new release on Núcleo Contemporâneo I would buy it, and I have a big collection of your releases!

B: (laughs) Thank you! Thank you!

V: You have recorded at least two Hermeto tunes that I know of. Have you ever worked with him?

B: Yes, I have. He is an amazing musician and he is one of the big inspirations that I have.

V: Your musical styles are very different but your musical overview is very similar I think.

B: Yes, for me he is very important. You know those musicians that influenced me very much – it’s not always the music. It’s the way of thinking. It’s the process.

V: Yes. I identify with that completely, because it’s a much bigger thing than just playing some notes. It’s the whole philosophical thing behind it.

B: Yes.

V: Now - I play the guitar and I play percussion. I’m not very good but that’s what I do. But I have always had this secret fondness for the trombone…and I was wondering…is there an instrument that secretly attracts you?

B: Ha! You know, when I’m travelling I’m always buying instruments from the different places. I have in my house, I don’t know, maybe fifty, sixty instruments from different places. I try to play all of them. Of course, I am not playing them live but sometimes they invite me to compose sound tracks – mostly for documentaries – and then I play them, but I would love to play all of them really…

V: Do you see yourself primarily as a pianist or would you say that the orchestra is you instrument, like Duke Ellington, for instance?

B: Yes, I understand. I feel balanced between both of them. You know, I started to play solo a very short time ago. I started to really play solo three years ago – two years ago. I used to play solo in my house and I recorded it and I liked it very much, what I heard. But when I went out I couldn’t concentrate enough to really play solo. So I started not very long ago. But now I really like to do it, and in this sense I see myself very much as a piano player. But of course, all the time I am having ideas for ensembles - all the time. I find it very easy to compose for ensembles.

V: With you projects you are never right up there in the front…

B: No, no…

V: …but I always get the idea that you are always driving it along and making it all happen…

B: Yes, this is what I like.

V: All right. It’s been a long night for you so I will cut it short. In this country we have a Radio programme that has run for years and years called Desert Island Discs. And the idea is – if you were marooned on a desert island, which eight records would you choose to have with you. BUT... I’m meaner than that! I’m going to say that you can only take ONE record…

B: The Ninth Symphony from Beethoven.

V: You didn’t have to think about that at all!

B: No. This is probably the most incredible music I’ve heard in my life.

V: Thank you very much. I’ve really enjoyed tonight. Perhaps I’ll catch up with you again in São Paulo soon.

B: Thank you.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Keeping tabs on Taubkin

I first encountered Benjamin Taubkin’s playing in 1994. In January of that year I was on my first visit to Brazil and Mrs Voltarol, my daughter, my grandson and I had been invited to dinner by a couple from São Paulo that we had previously met in London. It was - for various reasons that I won’t go into now - a very strange evening, but during the course of it the host played a CD by a singer called Zizi Possi which really grabbed our attention. I took down the details and in due course was able to buy a copy. The album was called Valsa Brasileira and the accompaniment was provided by two keyboard players and a percussionist. They were credited simply as Benjamin, Jether and Guello, although I now know the keyboard players to be Benjamin Taubkin and Jether Garotti Jnr.

Both Taubkin and Garotti played acoustic piano as well as Roland JV1000 keyboards, but I was particularly impressed by the piano playing, the lion’s share of which was by Benjamin Taubkin. As a consequence, when I came across an album by him on a subsequent visit to São Paulo I pounced on it and was not disappointed when I got it home and played it. A Terra E O Espaço Aberto (The World and the open space) was released in 1997, featured mostly original compositions by Taubkin and was performed with Lui Coimbra (cello, guitar and charango), Marcos Suzano (percussion) and Toninho Carrasqueira (flutes). There were also guest appearances from Teco Cardoso (baritone sax) and Caito Marcondes (percussion). The music was terrific but hard to define. It mixed elements of classical composition, jazz, traditional Brazilian musical forms and experimental music in a way that was both seamless and immensely satisfying, giving as it did a taste of what was to come with his next project.

You will no doubt have guessed by now that I spend an awful lot of my time in CD shops whenever I’m in Brazil and my next visit was no exception. Consequently I was in possession of Orquestra Popular De Câmara (The Popular Chamber Orchestra) quite soon after it was issued in 1998. For the most part, the composition was shared by other members of the group – and what a group this was! Lui Coimbra, Teco Cardoso and Caito Marcondes were joined by Mané Silveira (flute and saxophone), Mônica Salmaso (voice), Ronem Altman (bandolim), Paulo Freire (viola caipira), Toninho Ferragutti (accordion), Dimos Guadaroulis (cello), Silvinho Mazzuca Jr (bass), Zezinho Pitoco and Guello (percussion). There was even a guest appearance by Naná Vasconcelos. This album sounded better and better every time I listened to it and I was particularly taken with the fact that this really was an orchestra. Yes, there were some solos but for the most part the music was an ever-shifting mix of melodies, textures and intriguing rhythms that drew one right inside it.

By now I had realised that the Núcleo Contemporâneo label was a very interesting one, and that the Taubkin family had quite a lot to do with it, so I frequently bought CDs on the strength of the label alone and was never disappointed. I also began to investigate albums by the other band members. I had already been introduced to Mônica Salmaso’s work through an album of Baden Powell and Vinicius de MoriasAfro Sambas that she made with the guitarist Paulo Bellinati. As a consequence I was delighted to discover when I was in Brazil in 2000, that she had a new album – Voadeira - coming out and that Benjamin Taubkin was playing on several tracks, as were a number of her fellow ‘Orquestra’ musicians. Better still was the fact that she was to give a free 40 minute recital in a São Paulo record store to promote the album, and that Benjamin Taubkin was to accompany her. I came away from that afternoon with an autographed copy of Mônica’s new CD and increased admiration for Taubkin’s musicianship.

October 2002 found us back in Brazil again and we were delighted to discover that ‘Orquestra Popular De Câmara’ were due to perform in a small club in São Paulo. We managed to get tickets and travelled up to the city from the coastal town of Boiçucanga where we were staying, in a state of high excitement. The gig did not disappoint me, and it rates as one of the most enjoyable musical experiences of my life. The band seemed to be on particularly good form and we soon learnt that this was in fact a warm-up gig for the recording of their second CD, which they were due to start recording the next day but I had to wait until my next visit the following year before I could get my hands on the results of their efforts.

Danças, Jogos e Cançoes (Dances, games and songs) features some changes of personnel but the spirit of the music remains the same. Lulinha Alencar replaces Toninho Ferraguti, Ari Colares is added on percussion, Zezinho Pitoco plays some clarinet in addition to his percussion contribution, and João Taubkin (bass) guested on one track – a completely fresh reading of Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Blackbird’. Mané Silveira says in his notes for the album – “We feel that this music reflects and represents our land and the people who are here, dreaming in space, alive.” Pat Metheny says of it – “What I love about this music is that it sounds like now in Brazil to me, without being that traditional somehow, even though it is obvious that the players know all about the source of what they are playing.” That about sums it up!

I kept searching eagerly for the next ‘Orquestra’ project and even made two aborted attempts to see them again on my next visit to Brazil, but on both occasions the gig was cancelled at the last minute and I missed out. On my last visit in November 2007 I found a CD of Benjamin’s new project Cantos Do Nosso Chão (Songs from our land), which shows yet another facet of his musicality. This is a collaboration with the percussion group Núcleo De Música Do Abaçaí, whose director, Ari Colares was a participant in the 2nd ‘Orquestra’ recording. There are guest appearances by other Orquestra members - João Taubkin plays fretless bass on all tracks, whilst Mônica Salmaso, Teco Cardoso, Lula Alencar, Paulo Freire and Lui Coimbra also contribute to varying degrees. The Guardian’s John L.Waters said of this CD – “For this project, pianist-arranger Benjamin Taubkin has taken traditional music from Brazil to make a charming, dreamlike hybrid. The basic lineup - mixed vocals, bass, piano, percussion - perform those lopsided, strutting rhythms we associate with north- eastern Brazil. From this Taubkin has made the most deliciously melodic album, which bears repeated listening.” He also described it as “…a stunning album” and I can’t disagree with this opinion.

So there I was thinking that I’d have to wait until my next trip to Brazil in January of next year to get my next fix of Benjamin Taubin’s music when I got a phone call from my daughter, telling me that he will be appearing in London in a few weeks’ time. So if you are able to buy, beg, borrow or steal a ticket then do so. This is a gig not to be missed. I’ll see you at The Vortex Jazz Club, London on July 28th at 8.30 pm, for a solo piano recital by one of my musical heroes. Don’t miss it!

Here's a clip of the 'Orquestra' playing a Teco Cardoso composition, just to whet your appetites for the kind of music I have been describing here.

Thursday, 9 July 2009


The Blue Five ponder the advisability of a reunion...

Greetings, dear readers. I have been conspicuously absent from the blogsosphere for rather longer than usual as a result of gallivanting around the country doing all manner of things, but I’m now back at the keyboard and raring to post.

Among other things, I spent a few days with my older brother – ‘alcohol’ – doing a little walking in the Malvern Hills, and incidentally getting a good sense of why Sir Edward Elgar found them so inspiring. Then Mrs Voltarol and I set off for Bournemouth, where we saw James Taylor and his band (great!) and stayed a night in The Queen’s Hotel (dreadful!).

I must admit to feeling a little uncomfortable with the rest of the audience at Bournemouth International Centre. This was the first time that I had been to what I would call a ‘mainstream’ gig in a long time, and I seemed to be surrounded by grey haired couples of a certain age. Granted, Mrs V and I also fall into that category, but we are used to seeing a much wider age range at the gigs we usually attend. Also, I got a distinct whiff of ‘Radio Two and Daily Mail’ from those immediately around me. If you were there and you don’t fall into that group then I apologise, but that was how it felt to me at the time.

Anyway, the music was excellent. James Taylor seems to get better as he gets older – both as a singer and as a guitarist – and his band and backing vocalists were superb. The line up was – Steve Gadd: drums (I can’t believe that this was the first time I’d seen him play ‘in the flesh’ as it were), Larry Goldings: piano, accordion, keyboards, Jimmy Johnson: bass, Mike Landau: guitar, Andrea Zonn: fiddle and vocals, Kate Markowitz and Arnold McCuller: vocals.

The material was a mix of back catalogue songs and tracks from the most recent CD – Covers, but despite the fact that they must have performed some of these songs a thousand times they still managed to make them seem fresh and alive. Indeed, Taylor said of ‘You’ve got a Friend’ that when he first learnt it and ‘worked up’ a version, he little thought that he would be singing it every single night for the rest of his life!

I’ll gloss over the hotel experience other than to say – if you’re ever in Bournemouth, don’t stay at the Queen’s Hotel in Meyrick Road. Mind you, I can’t think of any reason one would want to go to Bournemouth other than to hear a good band. It strikes me as a place that is good for passing through, or – better still – around.

We moved on to London to visit friends and family for a few days, and to see my granddaughter playing at The Barbican. I don’t know whether to be pleased as punch or pissed off. She’s nine years old and has already played the Barbican. Here’s me at 64 and I haven’t even made it to the foyer! Oh, and I caught up with my old mate Leigh Heggarty (see links) of Blue Five Fame. The picture at the top of the page shows us outside Pro Music in Ickenham. That's me in the shorts...

So that’s why the postings have been few and far between for the last month. Tomorrow I’ll be back with a vengeance!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

A random selection…

I was thinking about what to write about the other day when I glanced at the pile of CDs that had accumulated next to the Hi Fi over the weekend. It occurred to me that the pile more or less represented my last two days of listening and was worth sharing with you so –

First up was Luiz Avellar – Bons Amigos. This album was recorded in 1995 and I bought it in São Paulo not long after it came out. I had been made aware of Luiz Avellar by my habit of reading sleeve notes. His piano playing cropped up on a regular basis on albums by artists that I liked so I was quickly drawn to his name when I saw an album by him. A quick inspection proved that he kept good company on his own albums as well. Here were Paulo Moura(clarinet), Paulo Russo (double bass), Hélio Delmiro (guitar), Arthur Maia (electric bass) and Hermeto Pascoal (melodica), all making guest appearances. I owned albums by all of them and I soon realised that, of the other sidemen, Ricardo Silveira (acoustic guitar), Jorge Helder (electric and double bass), Robertinho Silva (drums and percussion), Raul de Souza (trombone) and Carlos Bala (drums) had all appeared on other albums that I owned. Only drummer Cláudio Infante and vocalist Ana Zinger were unknown to me.

It’s a great album and shows Avellar and co to be world class musicians. This is another illustration of Brazilian jazz, taking as it does a selection of popular Brazilian tunes and giving them a jazz interpretation. There are tunes by Dorival Caymmi, Dori Caymmi (Dorival’s son), Toninho Horta, Caetano Veloso, Tom Jobim, Hermeto Pascoal and Gilberto Gil, as well as two originals by Avellar himself. This is well worth tracking down and adding to your own collection if you have a taste either for jazz or for Brazilian music generally. For a taste of Avellar’s playing try this –

Next on the CD player was Weather Report – Night Passage. This album features what for me is the best line-up that they had, and I was lucky enough to see them play at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1980 (see Bass Thoughts). The personnel are – Joe Zawinul – keyboards, Wayne Shorter – saxophones, Peter Erskine – drums and Robert Thomas Jr. – hand drums. The material is by Zawinul with the exception of ‘Port of Entry’ by Shorter, ‘Three Views of a Secret’ by Pastorius (one of my favourite Jaco tunes) and a storming version of Duke Ellington’s ‘Rockin’ in Rhythm’ that sits surprisingly naturally alongside the other compositions. Here’s ‘Port of Entry’.

Convite Para Ouvir Toquinho e Vinicius (An invitation to hear Toquinho and Vinicius) first came to my attention in 1994, in a small restaurant in Angra dos Reis (christened ‘Free Willy’s on account of an unfortunate incident involving a large rip in the waiter’s track-suit bottoms). There was a little cassette player in the corner and it was playing this music which instantly captivated me. I made it my business to get the name of the album and sought it out as soon as we got back to São Paulo. This compilation album, first issued in 1988, has been a firm favourite ever since.

The ‘Vinicius’ in question is Vinicius de Moraes, who was well known world wide for his collaborations with Tom Jobim, but also collaborated with the great Baden Powell. Toquinho was new to me – a fine guitarist, singer and composer who also wrote many songs with Vinicius. On this album the material is drawn almost exclusively from these songs, with the exception of one song by Dorival Caymmi. A lot of the tunes on this will be familiar to many people, even if the titles aren’t. This is classic stuff in the Bossa mould that is pure Brazilian: untainted by the North American record company’s need to have English lyrics or more foursquare rhythms. Here are a couple of archive clips. Don't be put off if you don't speak Portuguese - the musical content of the first piece is well worth it. The second clip is short but gives a real flavour of how differently they interpret the familiar Jobim tune. All of the songs here are on this compilation.

Michel Petrucciani’s ‘Both Worlds’ album was one of the last that he recorded before his early death, coming out as it did in 1998. Mrs Voltarol bought it for me as a Christmas present that year and we both loved the CD. It featured several of my favourite musicians – Steve Gadd on drums, Anthony Jackson on bass and Bob Brookmeyer on trombone and arrangements – as well as two Italian players – Flavio Boltro on trumpet and Stefano Di Battista on soprano saxophone. We enjoyed the album so much that when we heard that Pettruciani was due to play at Ronnie Scott’s in the new year we immediately decided to go up to London to see him. Alas, our excitement was short lived as Petrucciani died on January 6th 1999 at the age of 38. Here he is in 1998 with Gadd and Jackson, playing one of the tunes from the album - 'Brazilian Like'

The final item in this random selection is O Brasil Da Sanfona. This is a recording of a concert dedicated to the sanfona (or accordion) music of Rio Grande do Sul and São Paulo (in this case referring to the state). I have written elsewhere about being converted to the joys of accordion music (see Accordion Crimes) Strangely, I bought this album principally because of the label. I have many CDs on the Núcleo Contemporâneo label and I have yet to hear an album from them that wasn’t excellent. A quick visit to their website will tell you a lot about them. This is a company run by one of Brazil’s finest musicians – Benjamin Taubkin – and his sister, Miriam Taubkin, who is the driving force behind many of the label’s special projects.

‘O Brasil Da Sanfona’ is one of those projects, which sought to showcase the incredible musicianship of accordion players in central Brazil. The only name that I knew was that of Toninho Ferragutti, who is a fantastic musician. The other players on here all lived up to my expectaions. They are Caçulinha, Gilda Montans and Meire Genaro, Regina Weissmann, Renato Borghetti, Gilberto Monteiro, Oscar dos Reis, Luciano Maia and finally, Renato Borghetti. Unfortunately I can't find any web refences in English for these musicians but I've managed to find a few YouTube clips of some of them. Incidentally, the accompanists on the album are not credited but the standard of their musicianship is very high . Here's Caçulinha -

And here's Gilda Montans and Meire Genaro playing Astor Piazzolla's 'Libertango'.

Next up is a ten minute selection from Regina Weissman.

and finally, here's Toninho Ferragutti.

So that’s it. That was one weekend’s listening for the Voltarol household. I hope this music will give you as much pleasure as it gives us.