Brazilian Trio – Constelação – Mótema MTM-93, 51:43 [6/12/12] ****1/2:
(Hélio Alves – piano; Nilson Matta – bass; Duduka Da Fonseca – drums)
It’s been four years since pianist Hélio Alves, bassist Nilson Matta and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca, better known as the appropriately named Brazilian Trio, have put out an album. The wait was well worth it. The 51-minute, ten-track Constelação (which means “constellation” in Portuguese and is pronounced cohn-stay-lah-sow) finds the three friends once again working their way through Brazilian material (including three by Antonio Carlos Jobim) and top-notch originals by all trio members. The Brazilian Trio has already set the bar high: the group’s 2009 debut, Forests, was nominated for Best Latin Jazz Album. It’s too early to tell how Constelação will be received, but the trio’s sophomore release has the same passion, great performances and graceful professionalism which filled Forests.
The Brazilian and jazz influences, of course, go deep. Alves, Matta and Da Fonseca were all born and raised in their native Brazil and later came to New York City at different times to pursue their jazz callings, and each artist has made vital contributions to local and national jazz scenes. Alves has worked with Claudio Roditi, Joe Henderson and had a lengthy association with harmonica player Hendrik Meurkens; Matta is part of the renowned Trio da Paz alongside Da Fonseca, and his numerous credits encompass Charlie Byrd, Herbie Mann, Don Pullen and others. Da Fonseca’s sizeable résumé includes Gerry Mulligan, John Scofield and Rufus Reid to cite just a few. Besides their recorded output, Da Fonseca, Matta and Alves have been on stage together countless times and have persuasive musical connections.
To say the Brazilian Trio is a collaboration with chemistry is an understatement. The three effortlessly blend Brazilian music (which is noted for compelling melodies and rhythms) with piano trio jazz. By utilizing jazz-styled improvisation and some subtle adjustments to the Brazilian musical foundation, the trio presents a little something for fans of both genres. Also important to the overall sound, Constelação traverses many moods, from melancholy to shimmering brightness. A good example of sprightly optimism is the opening title track, composed by Alfredo Cardim (minus the Dee Dee McNeil lyrics). The tune refers to the Cruz (or Crux) constellation, a dominant feature in the Brazilian night sky, which is also incorporated into that nation’s flag. Alves and Matta meld both cadence and a melodic lilt via keyboards and acoustic bass while Da Fonseca provides a nuanced, shifting rhythm on his drum kit. Matta offers a lyrical solo, then Alves pumps up the tempo during his extended piano improvisation and Da Fonseca escalates things even more during a rolling solo near the track’s end. The trio’s romantic side comes out on two special pieces. Helio wrote his moving number, “Bebe,” for his wife and initially issued a straightforward jazz version in 1998 on his first record, Trios, with Al Foster and John Patitucci. Here, the Brazilian Trio tweak and freshen the arrangement, using a 3/4 time to give the cut a more obvious Brazilian feel. Da Fonseca’s likeminded “Isabella” is a waltz penned as a tribute to his teenage daughter. There is a charmed elegance and fluidity which rides throughout the mid-tempo piece, underscored by the interaction between Da Fonseca and Alves, where the cymbals and keys have a particularly fine exchange. Matta also furnishes a family-tinted work with the medley “LVM/Direto Ao Assunto.” The first section represents the initials for Matta’s wife, Louisa, and his sons Victor and Maico. The beautiful ballad was composed in the early 1990s when the bassist was in Don Pullen’s African Brazilian Connection. “Direto Ao Assunto” is decidedly more upbeat and aptly translates as “straight to the point,” although “cut to the chase” might be more fitting, since the older tune (written in the early 1970s) races along at quite a gallop. Even during the most difficult portions, the threesome make the music seem easy to play: it’s certainly a joy to hear.
Also wonderful to listen to is the Jobim material. “Luiza” has a breathtaking melody. Even without the words, one immediately sympathizes with the emotions of trying to forget about a lost love. The vigorous “Quebra Pedra” is also distinct: it has an intricate rhythm and an involved melodic line. Here, the trio’s practiced expertise comes to the fore: the piano, bass and drums each deliver multidimensional contributions which flow around each other in a versatile dance. “O Bôto” has an arrangement which lies midway between those two tracks: dynamic but also refined, stylish and also instrumentally meticulous. In all, the ten tunes (new, well known and a few obscure ones) prove Brazilian music continues to be a fertile area to explore.
TrackList: Constelação; Bebe; Embalo; O Cantador; Quebra Pedra; LVM/Direto Ao Assunto; Luiza; O Bôto; Isabella; Bolivia.
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