I don’t own many (any) albums led by a harmonicist. I’m totally sans Toots. I’m not even sure harmonicist is the correct term for a harmonica player. Equally not sure it’s an instrument I’ve got big love for…maybe in a fierce, substance-fired rhythm n blues context it brings some crazy but I’m not overly sold. However, Gabriel Grossi IS a harmonicist, this album IS NOT in a rhythm n blues context and he JUST HAPPENS TO BE a 3 times Latin Grammy finalist – so an ideal opportunity to challenge my lazy-arsed ignorance then.
#motion is a live album, captured over 2 nights, which Brazilian Grossi describes as a resumé of around twenty years of personal icons/influencers. “Each number pays tribute to a big name from my life story. For example, Mauricio Einhorn was my harmonica professor in the beginning; and trombonist Raul de Souza, I’m still really close to. These guys are 85 now and still playing – a good sign for us!” It features his latest quintet: trombonist Sergio Coelho, pianist Eduardo Farias, bassist André Vasconcellos and drummer Rafael Barata, with a guest appearance from celebrated fellow countryman Hermeto Pascoal.
Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Brazilian Baroque ‘Prelude from the Bachianas Number 4’ gently, wistfully caresses as Grossi’s deeply felt, exposed expression is touchingly supported by Farias. Hauntingly beautiful it is but an unlikely opener according to my Metal-damaged view of dynamics.
‘A Samba for Toots’ was written for Thielemans and is a breezy, sprightly jaunt which highlights an effortless, baton-passing quintet chemistry. The title track is more serious; a study in mobility & flow with a coruscant Farias doing the propelling and Barata/Vasconcellos doing the fizzing until Grossi slams the brakes on with a handsomely spaced solo that builds into a joyous coming together of all.
Lush, dawdling, sentimental Stevie Wonder balladry is offered via “From the Bottom of My Heart” while the playful, Hermeto Pascoal-blessed “Latin Brothers” lifts the (Latin) energy a notch and gets the crowd involved in some Portuguese-Paul Stanley call & response antics.
“Play, Raul” (“Raul” as in Raul de Souza, “Play” as in play) is affable and mature – Grossi and Coelho riffing, gliding and soothing as Farias & Barata comp and set predictive course resulting in an easy John Thompson “Nice”.
As a teenager, Grossi would take a weekly 18-hour round trip to be tutored by Mauricio Einhorn; ‘Embracing Einhorn’ is a tender “Thank you” to his second father, bringing a gentle celebration and obvious deep affection where over egged lament could easily have bruised. “Banzo” wears it’s Afro rhythms well, with a subtle spirituality that glows in and around Grossi’s energised soloing and Farias’ modal stabs.
‘A Tribute to Bituca’ is for his good mate, Milton Nascimento, and offers a much appreciated (by me) unhurried serenity. Vasconcellos’ drowsy 2-minute solo introduces melodies that are then picked up as a restful theme suited to warmer climes. Gears are then shifted, as “Different Beat” bustles and jives and Einhorn is welcomed on stage to wrap the album with a swaying, last-orders of a harmonica duet that drunkenly blurts “I really love you mate” more than any track I’ve ever heard. Loved-up mates, booze, harmonica – the perfect end to a night out or album.
“When I looked at my songs, I realised those I liked most were for my idols – so #motion is my heartfelt expression of gratitude” says Grossi. “It’s my truth and, I hope, somebody else’s truth, too.” I think this comes across in spades; #motion is an emotional appreciation of his beloved, expressed with great skill on an instrument ideally suited (I’ve now found out) to emote those feelings. Grossi has ensured that I am no longer ignorant to the seductive charm of the harmonica and its musical flexibility. He’s that kind of harmonicist.