Azymuth ‘Fênix’ LP/CD (Far Out Recordings) 4/5

azymuthWith the passing of keyboardist and co-founder José Roberto Bertrami, there was always the fear that the heart had been ripped out of Azymuth and that the group would never sound quite the same again. Happily, that fear turns out to be completely unfounded, and if anything the Azymuth sound of their early days has been rekindled with a new trio member, multi-keyboardist Kiko Constentino who is capable and confident enough to mark his own imprint on the band, and with three self-penned original compositions and two co-compositions, it is clear that Constentino plays no bit part, but rather is an integral member of the band and that bodes extremely well for the future of Azymuth.

Of course the rhythm section are still there to lay down bubbling bass lines and a cacophony of percussion and both Alex Malheiros and Ivan Conti are on top form and sound reinvigorated by this new chapter in the group’s career. The shuffling samba beat on ‘Neptunians’ features some subtle Fender Rhodes playing from Constentino with Conti appearing under the surface with his own distinctive brand of percussion. Matters begin on a high with the mid-tempo groove of the opener, ‘Villa Mariana (de tarde)’ with the new keyboardist centre stage and revelling in the atmosphere with the two longer term members engaging in wordless vocals. Gentle keyboards in juxtaposition to the heavy bass and percussion make for a fascinating combination on, ‘Orange clouds’, and permeating the album is a whole is a bright, summery feel, perhaps not surprising when one learns that the album was recorded in Rio de Janeiro in May of this year. The uptempo title track serves as the pretext for Constentino to unleash Hammond organ and synthesizer licks with discofied handclaps recalling the ‘Jazz Carnival’ era of the band. In a rootsier vein, ‘Papa samba’ has all the feel of the mid-1980s and this turns into a breezy, mid-tempo samba-jazz vehicle with shades of Klaus Wunderlich on the hammond and fine interplay between bass and drums. In general, a fine return to form for Azymuth and one where the new band member is far from overawed in filling the considerable musical shoes of Bertrami and instead makes his own contribution to the band sound. Of note is that Constantino has previously performed with the likes of Djavan, Gilberto Gil and Milton Nascimento, so no worries whatsoever about him feeling out of his depth.

Tim Stenhouse