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Marcos Valle & Stacey Kent – Ao Vivo – Sony Music/ Pure Pleasure – double vinyl discs

Marcos Valle & Stacey Kent – Ao Vivo –  Sony Music/ Pure Pleasure PPAN 20092, 62:51 stereo vinyl (2 discs) ****:

(Marcos Valle – piano, vocals. arrangements; Stacey Kent – vocals; Jim Tomlinson – tenor saxophone; Jesse Sadoc – trumpet, Flugelhorn, arrangements; Marcelo Martins – tenor, saxophone, flute; Alberto Continentino – trombone; Luis Brasil – guitar; Renato “Massa” Calmon – drums)

As a teenager in the mid-Sixties, Marcos Valle was heavily influenced by the bossa nova music of his native Brazil. In 1963, this singer, pianist and composer released Samba Demais on the Odeon label. His follow-up album, O Compositor e o Cantor featured many hits among them, “Summer Samba”. His fellow Brazilians clamored to record his compositions. On the momentum of the Brazilian wave, he traveled to the United States and was involved in the earliest incarnation of Sergio Mendes’ Brasil ’66. Soon he recorded an album for Warner Brothers (Braziliance!) and did session work at Verve Records with Astrud Gilberto.

Valle returned to Brazil and collaborated there with Milton Nascimento. His work reflected political context and a variety of musical influences. He began to write for television, including soap operas and children’s shows. Valle experimented with musical structures and teamed up with a wide array of artists including Sarah Vaughan, Leon Ware and Chicago. He continues to perform and record in a variety of ensembles.

Sony Records released Marcos Valle & Stacey Kent Ao Vivo, in 2013 as a five-decade retrospective. Pure Pleasure Records has issued an audiophile double-LP vinyl remaster. Recorded in Brazil, these live performances feature the best of Valle’s compositions and arrangements. He is joined by a top-notch band, including jazz singer Stacey Kent. Side A opens with a jazzy piano intro that flows into smooth bossa nova groove. The flute (Marcelo Martins) and flugelhorn (Jesse Sadoc) have a gentle cinematic ambiance.  “Look Who’s Mine” features the silky high-register vocals of Kent. This slower-tempo number combines the arrangement skills with popular melodic themes. Valle’s piano is delicate and weaves around the ensemble gracefully. Moving to waltz-time (and near quintuple time), “The Face I Love” employs staccato orchestration and a tenor saxophone lead. Valle joins Kent on harmony in the second verse, and adds a concise piano run. “The Answer” feels like pure samba with its caressing rhythms and flow.

Each album side exemplifies the range of Valle as a composer and arranger. Side B has a soulful ballad, “Drift Away” with a bluesy saxophone solo. “Passa For Mim” is moody and complex and approximates a film noir resonance. Of course, the highlight is the quintessential, jaunty “Summer Samba” with blended instrumentation and English & Portuguese vocals (Kent and Valle respectively). There is an infectious confluence of jaunty tempo, vocal harmony and rhythm stops that is the essence of Brazilian music. The band is superlative and they all get to solo on the up tempo, “Gente”. This glowing, mostly instrumental piece is a crowd pleaser.

A change of pace highlights Side C. “Batacuda” has a syncopated dance vibe with accentuated rhythms in the verse. The chorus is more swaying. On “La Petite Valse” the arrangement has a winsome, lilting touch (with trumpet/flute shading) as Kent sings in French (her third language on the record). There is a signature shift to ¾ time. The lyrical “If You Went Away” translates like a cool jazz slow dance from the early sixties. The final side runs a gamut of styles. “Pigmailio 70” is finger-snapping world jazz with halting cadences and vocalese. The horn arrangements are muscular and Valle executes a deft solo. With a funky opening double bass riff (Alberto Contentino), “The Crickets” exudes an Afro-Cuban or Caribbean groove with sharp flute counterpoint and piquant saxophone lines. A rare duet (“She Told Me, She Told Me”) is an amenable pop tune with a quasi-classical piano intro. “My Nightingale” is lush pop with gossamer vocals and fluid saxophone.

Ao Vivo is an excellent live jazz album. The arrangements are layered and rich. The acoustics have studio intimacy. The instrumentation has full tonality, and the microphone levels of the instruments are balanced. Kent’s voice sounds pristine. The high-gloss gatefold packaging is luxurious. It is a fitting tribute to an important jazz composer/arranger.

TrackList:

Side A: The White Puma; Look Who’s Mine; The Face I Love; The Answer

Side B: Drift Away; Summer Samba; Gente; Passa For Mim

Side C: Batucada; La Petite Valse; If You Went Away

Side D: Pigmalio 70; The Crickets; She Told Me, She Told Me; My Nightingale

—Robbie Gerson

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