Laurinda Almeida-Bud Shank Quartet ‘Brazilliance vol 1 +2’ (Poll Winners Records) 5/5

This superb package groups together two original World Pacific LPs from 1954 and 1958 respectively and effectively chronicles what was the formative period of Brazilian samba-based rhythms and jazz music fusion for what would eventually become known as bossa nova. In fact the sounds contained herein pre-date the bossa era and as such provide an invaluable insight into composers before the likes of Jobim and Bonfa.These include the great Brazilian songsmith Ary Barroso, pianist-composer Radamés Gnattali and major exponents of the north-eastern Brazilian roots music, Luis Gonzaga and Pixinguinha. All have their songs showcased here. The initial project started when Brazilian guitarist Almeida and bassist Harry Babasin performed as a duo on the Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and the latter had the idea of adding drums and a horn. The drummer in question just happened to be Roy Harte who was co-founder of Pacific Jazz records and the rest is history. Laurinda Almeida provides the majority of original compositions on offer and they are more akin to Brazilian folk music (that includes choros and changing beat patterns which adds to the interest) with the strong presence of one Almeida’s major influences, classical guitarist Andrés Segovia. Key tracks include Gnattali’s pernnnial ‘Atabaque’, Barosso’s ‘Terra séca’ and a lovely take on the American songbook standard ‘Speak low’. A change in personnel in the rhythm section is present on the second album with Gary Peacock on bass and Chuck Flores on drums replacing the previous incumbents. Both Almeida and Shank were more confident in their writing talents and consequently it was a mainly original list of numbers with Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Little girl blue’ and ‘I didn’t know what time it was’ only two of the three standards covered. Of the originals, ‘Nocturno’ and ‘Mood Antigua’ impress above all. Extremely generous timing and excellent, lengthy and incisive interviews with Bud Shank from 2008 and original review comments from the legendary Down Beat review. The only minor criticism one can make is why was the vol. 2 original cover (aka ‘Holiday in Brazil’) not placed on the front CD sleeve, so evocative is it of Brazilian folklore. This is merely to quibble with what is an unbeatable value release that plays as cool as the very best Brazilian jazz, but has a slightly different feel from bossa nova and yet is no less enticing for that.

Tim Stenhouse