Baden Powell ‘Tristeza On Guitar’ (MPS) 5/5

Bavarian label, MPS, rightly prided itself on its superb sound quality and capturing some of the key American and European jazz musicians at their peak. However, the label also went one step further and recorded some gems of Brazilian music. Unquestionably, one of the jewels in the crown is this superlative recording that is one of the finest examples of Afro-Brazilian music with a strong jazz bent ever laid down in a studio setting. It certainly helped that it was recorded in Rio de Janeiro with the cream of Brazilian musicians and these included the great Milton Banana on drums, Copinha on flute and a significantly enhanced percussive section that featured three specialists and another two musicians doubling up. The varied set has a strong emphasis on Afro-Brazilian grooves and this contrasts with the more reflective side of the leader, heard here also in a more intimate jazz setting with pared down accompaniment.

Three fabulous samba-jazz numbers evoke the Afro-Brazilian influences. In the case of ‘Canto de Xango’, Orisha gods are invoked and the delicate flute solo intro with classical guitar leads on to a sudden transformation with some meaty percussion. For the equally compelling ‘Canto de Ossanha’, a bass-led intro with percussion takes off with the leader on rhythmic guitar and the rhythm section in full force. Completing the trio of pieces is ‘Saravá’, where the initial cuica percussion intro then takes on a mini festival with the added bonus of a repeated guitar riff. In a more sophisticated mood, ‘Tristeza’, is yet another winner with some deft guitar work from Powell, while the percussive instruments, the abataque, pandeiro and surdo all combine on ‘Som do Carnaval’, which contribute percussion mania on this homage to the sound of carnival. Contrast this with the other side of Baden Powell, and the guitar and bass duet of ‘Round midnight’, or the quasi-classical hues of guitar and intringuingly guitar playback technique on ‘Invencâo em 7 1/2’.

As with the new MPS re-issue series, the packaging is nothing less than sumptuous, lovingly assembled and is on a par with Japanese quality. Inner sleeves for the CDs that are crammed with additional details, a lengthy set of original and new notes in English and German by jazz author and authority, Joachim Berendt, beautiful facsimile covers and in this instance the gorgeous illustrated front cover by Gigi Berendt of a woman holding a guitar, with a bird of prey behind her and the stunningly evocative covers showcased with the contrasting black background. Psychedelic art design of the highest calibre. This is quite simply what Brazilian music is all about and why it is held in such reverence. Only the minor error on the original cover of the name of a cuica drum being misspelled with a ‘g’ and even this has its own quiet charm of an era when the discovery of world beats was still in its infancy.

Tim Stenhouse