Voltarol - related music

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Paulo Moura, master musician

The great Brazilian clarinettist and saxophonist Paulo Moura died on July 12th last year. I’m usually on top of the news from Brazil but this event passed me by and I did not find out about it until a few days ago, when I visited his web site to see if there were any new recordings available. This was the second piece of bad news that I had received from Brazil this month (see my previous posting) and although it concerned the death of only one man as opposed to over 800 people in the floods at the latest figure, I was equally saddened by it.

I first became aware of Paulo Moura on a compilation CD that I bought about 18 years ago called ‘The Sounds of Brazil’ This particular album seems to have disappeared now, although a quick internet search reveals that umpteen different compilations with the same name are currently available. There was nothing that special about this one, except that there was so little Brazilian material available in my part of the world at the time that I would buy anything that I could get my hands on, even if a CD only had one or two tracks of apparent interest to me. Such was the case here. I bought the album for two tracks by Gilberto Gil and one featuring Milton Nascimento.

Imagine my surprise and delight when one track grabbed my attention far more than the ones I had bought the album for. That track was ‘Chorinho pra Você’ (Chorinho for You – you can read about chorinho -  or choro as it is better known in this country - here) and it was credited to one Paulo Moura. There was no further information but I was hooked by the sound, which was like no other Brazilian music that I had heard at that point. It seemed like some kind of weird hybrid of Latin-American rhythms and New Orleans jazz, but with amazing bass counterpoint runs which were played on what I now know to be a seven string guitar, a six string guitar, and another high, driving, stringed instrument sound that I thought was another kind of mandolin but which turned out to be a cavaquinho. This was magical stuff that combined great ensemble playing with improvisation of the highest order. Paulo Moura’s clarinet was great, and there was also a splendid trombonist with a unique sound and terrific technique. Oh, and the whole thing was powered by a three piece percussion section led by what I eventually discovered to be a pandeiro.

All in all, this one track laid the foundations for the major expansion of my interest in Brazilian music and acted as a stepping-off point to a whole new world of stuff. I made my first trip to Brazil the following year and set out around the São Paulo record shops (the CD format was slow to take off in Brazil and most shops had far more cassettes than CDs at that time) with a list of artists that I was interested in and with the guidance of Alberto, who I met on that first trip and who subsequently became one of my best friends. Paulo Moura was on that list but I didn’t get my hands on ‘Mistura e Manda’ ('Mixed and Sent'. Thanks to my friend Vagner for help with that translation!)* - the album from which ‘Chorinho pra Você’ was taken - until a few years later. By that time I was already pretty certain that the trombonist was the splendid Zé da Velha because I had subsequently recognised his sound on other albums that I had bought, but I now learned that the 7 string guitarist was the extraordinarily talented and now late lamented Rafael Rabello. Another notable musician on the album was the bandolim player Joel Nascimento - also a favourite of mine - and although he didn’t play on that first track that I heard, it does illustrate rather nicely how one discovery can lead on to another.

As I acquired more albums of Brazilian music I began to notice how often Paulo Moura would crop up in the credits, and not just as a choro musician. The 1962 Cannonball Adderley release – ‘Cannonball’s Bossa Nova’ – features the eponymous Mr Adderley with the Bossa Rio Sextet, a group which included Sergio Mendes on piano, Dom um Romão on drums (who would go on to play with Weather Report), and a certain Paulo Moura on alto saxophone. The fact is that Paulo Moura was another of those musicians who transcended genre and just played music. He was as at home in a classical setting as he was in a jazz environment and he brought elements of both to bear when he played choro. One of my favourite albums of his is called ‘Rhapsody in Bossa – Paulo Moura visita Gershwin and Jobim’ (Paulo Moura visits Gershwin and Jobim). It is a live recording from 1998 and features – unsurprisingly – compositions by George Gershwin and Tom Jobim. However, the whole programme is played with a mixture of jazz feeling, Latin rhythms and humour, not to mention a sprinkling of circus band and a touch of Klezmer!

I could continue to enthuse about his various albums at great length but if you’ve read this far then you are probably interested enough to go out and buy one of them. I know that I will be watching closely for any previously unobtainable material that may be issued in the wake of his death. For me at least, I feel sad to think that I will now never get to see him perform live…

This is a version of Chorinho pra Voce which is taken from a great film about Choro and Choro musicians, called 'Brasilerinho'. It's available on DVD and is an absolute joy of a movie. Incidentally, I'm pretty sure that the trombonist on this is Ze da Velha.

Paulo was equally at home with the younger musicians. Here he is with Yamandu Costa in a version of  La Paloma which they recorded together when Yamandu was in his early twenties

Paulo Moura – 1932 - 2010

* updated translation - the phrase is roughly equivalent in meaning to: "chuck it in and see what happens". Thanks to Son of Voltarol for that.