Ark Ovrutski Quintet – Sounds of Brasil

by | May 4, 2011 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Ark Ovrutski Quintet – Sounds of Brasil – self-released, 47:26 ****:

(Ark Ovrutski – acoustic and electric bass, co-producer; Duduka Da Fonseca – drums, percussion, co-producer; Helio Alves – piano; Jorge Continentino – flute, baritone & tenor saxophone; Craig Handy – flute, alto & tenor saxophone)

There isn’t a straight line between South America and Russia and the distance is far between the two geographical areas. But on his self-released album Sounds of Brasil, Russian born bassist Art Ovrutski – who now calls New York City home – shows a distinct affinity for Latin American rhythms, music and melodies. One listen to Ovrutski’s quintet recording will disprove any thoughts the bassist is simply recreating the bossa nova era of the 1960s. While Ovrutski’s nine original tracks certainly share a Latin cadence, they all notably demonstrate a singular development which blends in other influences and inspirational matter.

In putting together a working quintet, Ovrutski relied on friendship and musical rapport. One important peer is drummer/percussionist Duduka Da Fonseca, whom Ovrutski initially met in 2007. Fonseca helped transform Ovrutski’s older compositions by reimagining them with a Brazilian groove and intricacy. Also along for the rollicking ride are pianist Helio Alves – who is no stranger to Latin American music – and the sax/flute team of Jorge Continentino (baritone & tenor sax, flute), who has recorded with Milton Nascimento and others, and the always impressive Craig Handy (alto & tenor sax, flute), who since the 1980s has worked with Art Blakey, Roy Haynes and lots more.

Opener “2nd Line/Partido Alto” has an interesting pedigree. The piece formerly had a New Orleans second line rhythm (hence the title), but Da Fonseca refitted the tune with a Brazilian partido alto groove which affords a smooth but fervent samba élan. While the horn front line – highlighted by some discerning sax solos – provides a rising soulfulness, the piano, bass and drums deliver a slinky support. The album’s airy title track (named after the Soho nightclub) continues the samba textures, accented by Ovrutski’s lobbing electric bass, Continentino’s sensual flute contributions and Handy’s hospitable alto sax.

Ovrutski dedicates two pieces to different people who shaped his musical path. The lyrical, beautiful “Song for My Mom” is just that, a bossa nova number which honors Ovrutski’s mother, who brought him to his first music school at age ten. Continentino and Handy double up on flute with commendable results. Handy is better known as a sax guy, but proves adept on the lighter-toned flute. Ovrutski also supplies an expressive bass improvisation which adds a muted sweetness. Another older cut which has been Latinized is “Mr. Hindemith,” written to commemorate 20th century modernist classical composer Paul Hindemith. Ovrutski’s early version was a traditional bop burner, but here the arrangement has been altered to include both a baião rhythm and a samba. This is a fiery affair where everyone steps forward into the spotlight. Da Fonseca’s drumming in particular is a wonder.

Ovrutski was so engaged with what the quintet came up with for his “Brasilian Carnaval” he includes two interpretations. Take one is the more insistent rendering, with Da Fonseca and Ovrutski presenting compound polyrhythms while both soprano and baritone saxes furnish ear-catching harmonic variations. The second take is compositionally the same but offers a subtler vibe underscored by the quintet’s cohesion and slightly different sax characteristics.

1. 2nd Line/Partido Alto
2. Sob
3. Song for My Mom
4. Mr. Hindemith
5. Brasilian Carnaval (take 1)
6. Baby’s Vibe
7. Samba in 4th
8. Brasilian Carnaval (take 2)
9. Batacada

— Doug Simpson

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