Brito and Luiz’ Amazing CD

Brito-Luiz CD

PIXINGUINHA: Gargalhada. BRITO: Esquina  de São Paolo. Salsito no choro. Chvia. BANDOLIM: Feia. Benzinho. Primas e Bordöes. SOUTO: Despertar de Montanha. Perigoso/ Danilo Brito, mand; João Luiz, gtr / Zoho ZM202110

This highly unusual CD—not quit jazz, and not quite classical, yet containing elements of both—features two virtuoso Brazilian musicians whose technique and musical ideas will take your breath away. Much of this music stems from Choro, music of their shared native country that “has the same cultural parents as jazz and blues, “according to the promo sheet, “European forms melded with African ideas to produce [music] marked by virtuosity, syncopation, counterpoint, and improvisation.”

The opening track, Gargalhada, is a Schottische written by Pixinguinha, the professional pseudonym of Brazilian composer, flautist and saxophonist Alfredo da Rocha Filho (1897-1973), in 1917. It opens in a jaunty tempo and clearly sounds more classical than jazz-related. Brito’s mandolin dominates in this one, displaying a technique equally as impressive as that of the legendary Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt…and the music resembles some of the folk tunes that Django recorded when he was 18 years old, before the caravan fire that crippled his right hand. The second section of the piece, though in a slower 4, is harmonically and musically quite interesting. But here, from the outset, the question arises: is this really a jazz CD? Of course, to me it doesn’t matter; good music is good music; but we all know that CDs sell due to marketing niches, not the high quality of the music or its performance. The third section of this piece is incredibly slow and delicate, almost coming to a stop a couple of times before gradually regaining speed almost up to the opening.

The album’s title track, Esquina de São Paolo (or São Paolo Street Corner) is in 3/4 time, but a sad, slow 3/4, and once again I was reminded of some of Django’s pre-accident, non-jazz recordings. It sounds a lot like folk music, and although there is an improvised solo for Brito there is no hint of jazz rhythm—which, again, does not upset me because the music is so good, but again, it lives on the border of folk and classical music.

Indeed, there are a number of pieces in this collection that use a waltz tempo that after a while I stopped trying to analyze the music and just sat back and enjoyed it. What makes it so enjoyable is, specifically, Brito’s lively, jaunty mandolin playing. I can’t recall having heard a mandolin player in the past 30 years as thoroughly enjoyable to listen to as he is. Luiz’ guitar generally provides the rhythm, chords and single-line counterpoint to Brito, and although he is a quieter player, his contribution is no less important because of the base he lays down for the mandolin. None of the music presented here is harmonically complex; on the contrary, it is all quite tonal, only occasionally adventuring into neighboring keys for a few notes or a bar or two, but that doesn’t matter.

Brito’s original piece Salsito no Choro is the closest thing to a real jazz rhythm on this disc, thanks largely to Luiz’ guitar accents. The liner notes tell us that the A section “alludes to the salsa, allusion to Cuba, where Paquito d’Rivera was born” (and happily fled, never to return). This is, at 6:04, also the longest piece on the CD.

And so it goes as you move from track to track, entranced by the joyous, virtuosic but never merely flashy playing of these two outstanding musicians. They are simply a joy to hear, a real tonic in the midst of all the maudlin, drippy jazz and classical albums coming out by the double handful to bemoan the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a CD that does not break your neck by crying on your shoulder, but a disc that enjoys and celebrates life. It may indeed be more of a classical crossover album than a jazz one, but it’s exceptional playing nonetheless.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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