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


 

Mark Weinstein’s O Nosso Amor

The real liner notes.

Daniella Thompson

31 July 2006

Last year, flutist Mark Weinstein asked me to write liner notes for his CD O Nosso Amor (Jazzheads, 2006). For apparent lack of paper, the notes were severely mutilated, and some bright soul even inserted factoids that have not the remotest connection to reality. (No, Jazzheads, João Gilberto was never a co-author of “Lugar Comum.” Shame on you for irresponsibly spreading urban legends.)

Nevertheless, the album is lovely and deserves listening (which you can do here). For the benefit of people who actually read liner notes, I’m publishing the unexpurgated version below:

In the popular music of Brazil, the flute commands an important place. It has been the lead instrument in choro since the latter’s inception as a playing style in Rio de Janeiro during the 1870s—a little before the development of jazz in the United States. Fusing European dances such as polka, waltz, and schottisch with African-derived rhythms—particularly the familiar 2/4 time found in samba—choro is characterized by virtuosity, improvisation, and counterpoint.

The basic choro lineup has always been flauta, cavaquinho e violão (flute, the ukulele-like cavaquinho, and guitar). Since the beginning of the gramophone age, choro ensembles (often expanded to include additional instruments) served as the instrumental backup for popular singers on their recordings. Thus the flute has been a constant presence in Brazilian popular music throughout the 20th century, and its presence continues to this day. A similar phenomenon may be observed in Cuba, where the flute has been serving as the principal solo instrument in charanga bands since the 1890s. Across the ocean in Europe, flutes were an essential element in 19th-century klezmer bands, and contemporary international klezmer persists in this tradition.

Curiously, no flute solo appeared in an American jazz recording until 1927, and the musician playing it (in “Shooting the Pistol,” with Clarence Williams’ Orchestra) was the Cuban Alberto Socarrás. Several decades had to transpire and the bossa-nova craze had to attain fever pitch before jazz flutists like Herbie Mann would incorporate Brazilian music into their repertoire. Mark Weinstein goes beyond bossa nova. In his hands, the jazz flute is a gateway into the richness and complexity of Brazilian music, an exploration already begun in his earlier recording with Romero Lubambo and Cyro Baptista and in an album of music by Hermeto Pascoal with guitarist/vocalist Richard Boukas. His focus on Brazilian forms complements his excursions into music drawn from Cuban and Jewish musical traditions. O Nosso Amor, which takes its title from a Black Orpheus soundtrack song, is an assorted Brazilian bouquet, offering choro, samba, bossa nova, frevo, capoeira, Brazilian jazz, and batucada spanning the better part of a century.

Flute virtuosity was highly prized in 19th- and early 20th-century Brazil. Several of the pioneer choro composers were renowned flutists, Joaquim Callado (1848–1880) and Pattápio Silva (1881–1907) being the best remembered. However, Alfredo da Rocha Vianna Jr., “Pixinguinha” (1897–1973), continues to be regarded as the greatest choro composer and flutist of all time. Two of Pixinguinha’s choros are featured on this CD. “Um a Zero” (One to Zero) was composed in honor of the Brazilian football ace Arthur Friedenreich, who shot the only goal in a match against Uruguay, winning for Brazil the 1919 South American championship and its first international soccer title. Fitting the occasion and the importance of futebol in Brazilian life, the tune is appropriately joyous and playful.

In contrast, “Naquele Tempo” (At That Time) is pensive and nostalgic. In November 1947, when Pixinguinha (now playing tenor sax) and his flutist partner Benedito Lacerda played this choro on the popular radio program O Pessoal da Velha Guarda, the host announced their segment in these words: “Few are the tunes that by their form or by their title are as expressive as a well-known choro by Pixinguinha called ‘Naquele Tempo.’ With a melody as evocative as its name, [it] is one of the most valiant pages written by Pixinguinha until now. His melody transports us to those times when nobody dreamed of atom bombs, when 18 mph was a terrifying speed, and when the struggle for subsistence—for bread, milk, beans—did not furrow faces with the deep lines left on them by the worries of today.” Mark performs this on the bass flute, a favorite instrument of Hermeto Pascoal, but one rarely heard in jazz recordings from the US.

One of the oldest tunes on this CD is also the best known. “Bahia” has been recorded countless times, by artists as diverse as Carmen Miranda, Bing Crosby, Placido Domingo, and John Coltrane (the song is a BMI Million-Air, having been performed more than a million times on US radio and TV). This beguiling samba-jongo was composed in 1938 by Ary Barroso (1903–1964), Brazil’s most celebrated songwriter until Antonio Carlos Jobim inherited his mantle. The song’s original title is “Na Baixa do Sapateiro” (In the Shoemaker’s Vale), deriving from a street in Salvador, Bahia, where cobblers used to ply their trade (nowadays it’s a busy shopping street). Expressing unrequited love for a swarthy and captivating baiana, the tune is simultaneously yearning and swinging.

Antonio Carlos Jobim (1927–1994), himself a flute player, is represented here with three tunes. The aforementioned “O Nosso Amor” (Our Love) was co-authored with poet-lyricist-diplomat Vinicius de Moraes (1913–1980) for the film version of their stage play Orfeu da Conceição. In Black Orpheus, “O Nosso Amor” was presented as a boisterous carnaval samba, but the best-known interpretation is probably João Giberto’s lyrical rendition dating from the same year.

In the 1950s, João Gilberto’s inseparable friend and alter-ego was the accordionist (later pianist) João Donato. The two shared a penchant for eccentricity and an unconventional approach to music. One of Brazil’s most original composers—certainly its most “Latin” tunesmith—Donato was born in the Amazonian region and lived in the US during the ’60s, honing his Latin jazz chops while playing and recording with the likes of Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, and Cal Tjader. He released “Lugar Comum” (Commonplace, Cliché) in 1975, on an eponymous vocal album. The zen-like melody is here executed on the alto flute, evoking the ambiguous seashore of Gilberto Gil’s lyrics.

Weinstein also plays alto flute on the samba-canção “Por Causa de Você” (Because of You), one of Jobim’s earlier songs, composed in 1957. The original lyrics were written by Vinicius de Moraes, who gave the song the grandiose title “Castelo de Amor.” Upon hearing the melody played by Jobim, the 27-year old Dolores Duran grabbed a pencil and wrote new lyrics on the spot. Vinicius preferred hers, and a new classic was born. “Falando de Amor” (Speaking of Love) was composed in 1979. Jobim’s lyrics classify the song as a“choro canção.” Although Jobim’s own recordings of the song never emphasized the flute, the lyrical melody is particularly well-suited for it.

The remainder of O Nosso Amor is given over to compositions by the musicians who recorded this CD. Bassist and co-producer Nilson Matta wrote the jazz samba “Sampa 1967,” a tribute to his native city, São Paulo. The date in the title alludes to Nilson’s first car, a VW Beetle purchased that year in São Paulo. Guitarist Romero Lubambo contributed “Frevo Camarada,” another tribute—this time to the northeastern state of Pernambuco and its capital Recife. Frevo is an accelerated and frenetic march that dominates the Pernambucan carnaval. Lubambo’s and Weinstein’s improvisations carry this venerable genre to the realm of modern jazz.

The bossa nova “Marka Som” is Mark Weinstein’s tune. The title is a pun on the composer’s name and marca som (marks sound). This is a lovely showcase not only for Mark’s flute but for Romero’s guitar and Nilson’s bass. The percussionist Guilherme Franco composed “Capoeira,” inspired by the single chord and constant rhythm of the Bahian capoeira chants, which are accompanied only by percussion and the one-string berimbau. Here, the northeastern flavor is retained within an arrangement enriched by jazz instruments and including both alto and bass flutes in a deft combination of dissonance and Amerindian echoes.

Rounding out this musical tour of Brazil is a Batucada executed by drummer Paulo Braga and percussionist Jorjão (Jorje Silva), along with Guilherme, Romero, and Nilson. Together they bring to life the energetic rhythm of the Rio de Janeiro carnaval, reminding us why Brazilian music has conquered the world.

 


Copyright © 2006–2008 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.