In the interests of disclosure I think you all should know that I’m a big Ed Motta fan. In my head he’s a superstar, and whilst he certainly is in his native Brazil, worldwide exposure is only relatively recent.
This is Ed’s 12th studio album in almost 3 decades. His music is not steeped in the musical heritage of Brazil but covers a range of musical styles, primarily American, from pop and rock to soul and jazz, with influences as diverse as Donny Hathaway, Stephen Sondheim and Donald Fagen. In essence Ed is a music fan, like the rest of us, but one with the talent and vision to translate this in to his own musical identity, one that isn’t constrained by musical stereotypes.
His last album, AOR, is an unabashed love letter to the commercial soul-inflected pop/rock of the 70’s as exemplified by Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers and Christopher Cross, the music Ed grew up listening to.
Perpetual Gateways was recorded in LA in September last year. It’s produced by Gregory Porter’s mentor and producer, Kamau Kenyatta, and features some serious players from the West Coast scene – Patrice Rushen and Greg Phillinganes (on piano and keyboards), Hubert Laws (flute), Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith (drums), Tony Dumas (bass) and Charles Owens (saxophone). This is music just how Steely Dan used to make it.
The first 5 tracks are collectively titled the “Soul Gate”, the last 5 the “Jazz Gate”. Whilst it is true that there are stylistic differences between the two sets, they are not significant and represent more of a subtle shift. The titles can also be seen as marking the break between sides of a vinyl LP.
The album starts where AOR left off. The music is bright, uplifting pop with soul and jazz running right through it. A key difference to the last album is the absence of a guitarist, which in AOR helped create that classic Becker/Fagen feel. However their influence remains in the form of the bewildering song titles, which sound like they are smart and full of symbolism, but are just as likely to be random words pulled from a dictionary.
The first tune, “Captain’s Refusal” is an upbeat opener, serving to set the musical scene. Ed’s smooth, soulful vocals hit home over a small but perfectly formed horn section with Greg Phillinganes on keyboards. Common features of many of the tracks, including this one, are short, but delightful keyboard solos. As the song trails off I’m energized, left wanting more.
The tempo drops by the third track, “Good Intentions”, and is one of several where you can concentrate on Ed’s vocals. These are full of soul, deep and rich in tone and harmony. It is worth mentioning that Ed sings the entire album in English, a choice that he feels is natural given the inspiration behind it. This is also the first time that he has written all of the lyrics himself.
My favourite track from Soul Gate is “Heritage Déjà Vu”. A funky keyboard rhythm underpins insistent horns before giving way to Ed’s vocals. The chorus just pops with energy.
Kicking off the second half, “Forgotten Nickname” is a ballad with gentle Rhodes and a flute solo from Hubert Laws. “Owner” lifts the tempo and shoots a glance back at earlier tracks although piano and trumpet solos help centre this in the jazz idiom.
“I remember Julie” is a straight-up jazz tune. For me it evokes a cross between Vanessa Rubin’s Simone and the jazz dance of Elizabeth Shepherd’s version of Four.
The press release describes the album as exploring the musical ground “between Spiritual Jazz with a deep sense of soul and prog-rocking fusion”. Ed has explored Spiritual Jazz before and here the songs “A Town in Flames” and “Overblown Overweight” best fit that description. Both retain the production values and strong sense of melody exhibited elsewhere on the album, so don’t expect a full-on spiritual workout, but the results are pleasant nonetheless.
In Perpetual Gateways, Ed Motta delivers probably his most consistent and accessible album to date, demonstrating his various musical passions in a cohesive collection of songs. More of the same please..