:: These reviews were also published
:: in Daniella Thompson on Brazil.


Fake Bahians at work

Grupo Falso Baiano releases an accomplished
choro album.

Daniella Thompson

10 October 2008

Jesse Appelman, Zack Pitt-Smith, Ami Molinelli & Brian Moran

The first time I caught up with the charmingly named choro ensemble Falso Baiano, exactly two years ago today, they were a trio (see “Este falso baiano não fica parado”) consisting of Brian Moran (7-string guitar), Zack Pitt-Smith (flute, clarinet & soprano sax), and Ami Molinelli (percussion). The fourth member, mandolinist Jesse Appelman, was already in evidence as a guest artist whose presence contributed handsomely to the group’s sound.

Now they return as a quartet with a well-selected, executed, and produced album of choro tunes. As the title Viajando implies, this is a journey through many decades of Brazilian instrumental music, the oldest tune having been composed by Bonfiglio de Oliveira (1891–1940) and the newest by Hamilton de Holanda (born 1976).

The group appears to be in tune with the sensibilities of choro apostles and Acari Records founders Mauricio Carrilho and Luciana Rabello, for the very first tune on Viajando is Luciana’s “De Bem com a Vida,” a lively choro dedicated to the bandolinista Pedro Amorim and reflecting his infectious joie de vivre. Falso Baiano interprets it with verve, and their cohesive ensemble work reflects the vivacity that imbues the tune.

Unlike “De Bem com a Vida,” which we never hear often enough, “Carioquinha” is a standard of the choro repertoire and one of Waldir Azevedo’s best-known compositions. Falso Baiano gives this bouncy tune a delicious arrangement replete with little solo surprises and unexected sound effects, slowing down toward the end before picking up the furious pace. More leisurely (up to a point) is Paulinho da Viola’s bluesy “Beliscando.”

The theme from Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. game is a popular platform for musicians around the world, and in Falso Baiano’s hands, it becomes a perfectly credible choro—at least until halfway through the track. Then all hell breaks loose in a baião-samba explosion, set off by Jovino Santos Neto on melodica, Michael Spiro on surdo and tamborim, Brian Rice on tamborim, and Ami—overdubbed—on cuica, pandeiro, and tamborim.

Paulo Sérgio Santos, who thinks enough of the group to have written a glowing dedication for the liner notes, is represented with “Samba da Lua,” a lively vehicle for the clarinet. Jacob’s maxixe “Biruta” is one of his less-recorded tunes and, at least Stateside, lesser known (David Grisman’s Mandolin Master of Brazil compilation lists “Biruta” but provides “Gostosinho” instead). The title, whose literal translation is ‘windsock,’ is a jargon for ‘deranged,’ and the tune does it justice, looping around delightfuly.

In contrast, “De Coração a Coração,” by the same composer, is a stately and heart-tugging valsa. Mike Marshall, who recorded it with Kaila Flexer on Brazil Duets, does the honors here in a masterly way.

It’s hard to believe that Hamilton de Holanda was 24 or younger when he composed “Aquarela na Quixaba”—so intricate and polished does it sound. Falso Baiano gives it a big gafieira sound, with extra percussion from Jorge Alabê. The track that follows—the previously mentioned oldest tune on this disc, “Alzira” by Bonfiglio de Oliveira—receives a similar treatment. This rarely recorded tune (Mauricio Carrilho resurrected it in the Choro Carioca box set) is a particularly happy addition to a gringo album.

The tune that gave the album its title comes from Hermeto Pascoal’s “Viajando pelo Brasil” (see the Bruxo, cigarette in mouth, with his group, including Jovino Santos Neto, giving it a long jazz spin). Falso Baiano’s 6-minute version actually sounds more Brazilian than Hermeto’s. It receives the imprimatur of Jovino, who plays accordion on this spirited track.

“Conversa de Baiana” is one of Dilermando Reis’ most popular choros. Falso Baiano performs it in a fittingly leisurely fashion, following immediately after with another Bahian-themed tune, “Canto de Ossanha,” which Spiro signs off with bird calls. The disc closes on Waldir Azevedo’s “Arrasta-Pé,” a rousing nordestino dance that brings Jovino back on accordion.

Viajando: Choro e Jazz is an auspicious debut release for Grupo Falso Baiano. There’s no better way to sum up the ensemble’s accomplishment than to quote Paulo Sérgio Santos:

These Americans navigate through various Brazilian idioms [...] and at times let their own roots emerge in their interpretations—a process that contributes naturally to the enrichment of each genre. I like the result very much, because it isn’t radically tethered to tradition. In addition to virtuosity and expressiveness, daring is another key ingredient in this mixture of the Brazilian people’s art and culture, itself the product of multiple external influences.

Listen to tracks from the album.

Grupo Falso Baiano: Viajando: Choro e Jazz
(Massaroca Records MR CD 20081; 2008) 56 min.

01. De Bem com a Vida (Luciana Rabello)
02. Carioquinha (Waldir Azevedo)
03. Beliscando (Paulinho da Viola)
04. Irmãos Super Mario (Koji Kondo)
05. Samba da Lua (Paulo Sérgio Santos)
06. Biruta (Jacob Pick Bittencourt)
07. De Coração a Coração (Jacob Pick Bittencourt)
08. Aquarela na Quixaba (Hamilton de Holanda)
09. Alzira (Bonfiglio de Oliveira)
10. Viajando pelo Brasil (Hermeto Pascoal)
11. Conversa de Baiana (Dilermando Reis)
12. Canto de Ossanha (Baden Powell)
13. Arrasta-Pé (Waldir Azevedo)

Zack Pitt-Smith: reeds
Brian Moran: 7-string guitar
Jesse Appelman: bandolim
Ami Molinelli: percussion

Guest musicians: Jovino Santos Neto (accordion, melodica), Mike Marshall (mandolin) Eva Scow (mandolin), Jorge Alabê (percussion), Michael Spiro (congas, percussion, birdcalls), Brian Rice (tamborim)


Copyright © 2008–2010 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.