Herbie Mann ‘Brazil, Bossa Nova’/’Right Now’ (Fresh Sound) 4/5

herbie-mannFlautist Herbie Mann has sometimes been accused and, rightly so, of over-recording during his lengthy career, but his most convincing work by far was that devoted to Latin music and he was in fact one of the earliest devotees from the United States to have actually gone to Brazil to record with native musicians. This came about after Mann had watched the film ‘Black Orpheus’ by Marcel Camus which won a prize at the 1959 Cannes film festival and he was hooked thereafter. Two years later and Mann flew to Rio to record the ‘Brazil Bossa Nova’ album for United Artists, which is one of the two albums here with a distinctly Brazilian flavour. The addition of guitarist Billy Bean adds extra character and dimension to proceedings and certainly in relation to his Atlantic studio albums at least the tracks are far meatier and longer in length which gives the listener the opportunity to hear the musicians, Mann in particular, to really stretch out. This is exemplified on a lengthy version of ‘Brasil’, virtually the unofficial national anthem composed by Ary Barroso, and is a lovely up-tempo vehicle for Mann and the band with some Ray Charles inspired electric piano. An early rendition of ‘One note samba’ is devoid of the clichés that besotted other American jazz musicians and still sounds fresh. The second album, recorded in the United States, was more in the vein of his other Atlantic studio recordings in so far as the pieces are relatively short in length in keeping with the vocal versions and once again there is an underlying Brazilian theme with two Jobim, one Bonfa and a Menescal/Boscoli compositions. However, Herbie Mann was clearly feeling more confident in the idiom since there are no less than four pieces written by him. One of these, ‘Cool heat’ is an album highlight with vibes and flute in unison over a pulsating percussive beat and this an Afro-Latin jazzers delight. A slightly more up-tempo than usual take on ‘Carnaval’ impresses and this is taken from the very same film soundtrack that motivated Mann to record in Brazil in the first place. Another melodic piece ‘Minha de saudade’ allows Mann to show off his more subtle and sensitive side and is a gorgeous interpretation.  With an outstanding percussion line-up of Willie Bobo and Carlos ‘Potato’ Valdes who feature on both albums, this fine formation is supplemented by a host of top jazz musicians such as Dave Pike and Haygood Hardy who also share vibes duties.

Tim Stenhouse