Various ‘The Beat of Brazil: Brazilian Grooves from the Warner Vaults’ (Stateside) 4/5

untitledThe end of the Rio Olympics is nigh and in spite of various reservations voiced, from a cultural perspective, the Games have afforded a wider public the opportunity to sample some Brazilian music, which is where this latest compilation comes in. Warner recorded some of the all-time greats at key periods in their careers and this anthology, compiled by Warner Brother archivist Florence Halfon (who elsewhere is the mastermind behind the excellent and extensive classic Atlantic jazz re-issue series), covers both the obvious highlights and more besides. All tracks feature their original album cover and individual track details provided which helps fill in the bigger picture.
One of the greatest of all Brazilian singers, and arguably the greatest female vocalist, was Elis Regina and despite her tragic death aged thirty-six in 1982, she nonetheless managed to pack over twenty years of an illustrious career into her relatively brief life. A major end of career high was reached when Regina recorded a live album as part of the Montreux Jazz Festival and fans of Tania Maria will warm to the funkier edge to the instrumental accompaniment. Two examples from that historical recording are included here with ‘Upa, Neguinho’ a virtual signature tune while ‘Madalena’ is almost on a par with the immortal duet album with Tom Jobim, ‘Elis e Tom’ from 1974. The latter rightly features here and outside Brazil is referred to by his full name of Antonio Carlos Jobim, but Brazilians hold him and his music dear to their hearts and affectionately call him ‘Tom’. Little wonder, then, that one of the major airports in Rio is named after him. Jobim is better known as a towering composer, and in this journalist’s estimation, on a par in his contribution to twentieth century music with Duke Ellington and Igor Stravinsky. Here, the sumptuous arrangements of Nelson Riddle (who famously arranged for Frank Sinatra) fit like hand in glove with the smooth vocalising of Tom on ‘She’s a Carioca’, and Jobim’s wordless scat ad-libbing is simply priceless. A second offering, ‘Berimbau’ is almost as good.

In general, the compilation focuses on instrumental Brazilian music with a strong jazz influence and Herbie Mann delivers an authentic samba-inflected jazz groove on ‘Groovy samba’, that is taken from a gorgeous album ‘Latin Fever’ (see other review) that demonstrates that when Mann was paired with authentic Brazilian musicians as here with Sergio Mendes and Bossa Rio, featuring Dom Um Romão on percussion and Paulo Moura on alto saxophone, he was a difficult act to follow.

A discovery from 1974 that is on collectors want lists is the delicious keyboard-led ‘Eu Bebo Sim’ from Osmar Milito with duet vocals while for fans of Rio funk, the Earth, Wind and Fire inspired, ‘Funky Samba’ and ‘Maria Fumaça’, are unrivaled slices of jazzy Brazilian funkadelica from Banda Black Rio. Early Azymuth feature on one of their earliest late 1970s albums, with a homage to Brazilian percussion instruments on, ‘Tamborim, Cuica, Ganza, Berimbau’ and the melodic, ‘Circo Marimbondo’. From a non-Brazilian approach, pianist Eddie Cano is better known for his Afro-Cuban jazz contributions, but on this occasion the relaxed reading of Edu Lobo’s ‘Reza’, with saxophonist Nino Tempo works wonders as does Cano teaming up with Louie Ramirez on ‘Barsanova Brown’.

Only the excessively slow rendition of a re-titled, ‘The Boy From Ipanema’, by Mary Well sounds out-of-place, laudable though her vocals may be. A minor quibble is the absence of the outstanding pairing of Frank Sinatra with Antonio Carlos Jobim and that album is highly recommended, and perhaps an example of a left-field groove from multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal. On the other hand, the gentler sounds of maestro Joao Gilberto are quite possibly best sampled on various Warner Brother albums, with the self-titled 1991 recording with arrangements by Clare Fischer worthy of any Brazilian aficionado’s collection. Otherwise, a near perfect trip into musica brasileira and one that will lead on to other discoveries, which is surely what the very best compilations are all about. The album is promoted by a double A side 45 with Airto Moreira’s ‘Celebration Suite’ and Gilberto Gil’s samba-disco hit, ‘Maracatu Atomico’, a great way to introduce yourself to Brazilian music for more casual listeners.

Tim Stenhouse