Thursday, November 18, 2004

A New Twist on Brazilian Jazz

I got to see a great concert last night featuring Dave Pietro and Banda Brazil. (They were appearing as guests at the TCU fall combo concert; Micah invited me to the show, and we managed to get there just in time to hear his combo. Among their numbers was a funky original by Micah that was dedicated to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles--really, the horns even wore the different-colored headbands.) Dave, a fine alto player, is a UNT alumnus and one of many people I went to school with who have become well-known in the world of jazz. He spent ten years as the lead alto for the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra and has also toured with Maria Schneider's big band.

It was a Schneider tour that took him to Brazil several years ago, and he said his life hasn't been the same since. His newest CD, Embrace, features a fusion of Dave's odd-meter-laced originals with the traditional sounds of Brazil. (This new CD is a followup to 2001's Standard Wonder, featuring new takes on Stevie Wonder originals. Micah turned me onto that a couple years ago after Dave's previous visit to TCU.)

While Dave didn't bring the entire band from the CD (which featured 13 people), all his cohorts were originally from Brazil and now live in either Boston or New York. Pianist Helio Alves was a carryover from the recording, but the new guys formed a cohesive unit, deftly navigating the challenging material that sometimes changed meters on a dime while keeping the Brazilian rhythms intact. I was especially impressed with the work of percussionist/vocalist Pedro Ito, who played a barrage of instruments, from congas and hand drums to the more exotic cuica and berimbau. We also noticed at the end that his whole body was used as a percussion instrument--there was a little green shaker attached to the back of his right shoe, and he raised his left pants leg to reveal a set of bells wrapped around his lower calf. We were sitting closer to him than anyone else, and it really was the best seat in the house.

Afterwards, Dave told me and Halfling that it was a real challenge adapting his concept to existing Brazilian rhythmic material (he was emphatic in not wanting to just do the typical "American jazz guy goes Brazilian" thing by playing a bunch of Jobim tunes or something), because certain things he was used to doing wouldn't work with what the rhythm section was doing. He said it was like being back at square one again; we thought his square one was pretty amazing.

And yes, I bought the CD. You should too.

Just say no to drums? Tonight in combo, there was no drummer. He's usually a really responsible guy, but the pianist said she saw him earlier in the day and he'd looked like death warmed over, so maybe he went home sick. We pretty much made it through everything without much trouble; after all, everyone is supposed to be responsible for keeping time, so it was a good exercise.

We also had some fun with it:
Trading fours with the air--We have one tune where we wanted to trade fours with the drums, so we just played it as usual and left a blank space where his spot should have been. Everyone pretty much came in on time, so that worked.

Heavy metal be-bop?--The vocal arrangement of "Night and Day" pretty much requires some sort of drumming, since it alternates between rhumba and swing, so I did the honors on a music stand. (In case you have to try this at home, a Wenger stand works way better than a Manhasset--the thicker metal makes for a beefier sound.)

Pump up the jam: Tomorrow night, Halfling and I should be checking out The Jam in South Dallas; I'll have a full report afterwards.

2 comments:

G. Travis said...

Pietro??!! DANG IT!
You people really don't like me anymore do you.
Nobody tells me about these things. :'(

Wong Online PoKér Hu said...

I like the sound of jazz. And adding Brazilian flavor would really make it a fantastis tune. I can't wait to hear one of the songs.