The Reunion Project ‘Varanda’ (Tapestry) 5/5

Lifelong friends Felipe Salles (saxophone), Chico Pinheiro (guitar), Tiago Costa (piano), and Edu Ribeiro (drums) have bridged the years to form The Reunion Project. The four Brazilian musicians came of age in São Paulo listening to a unique blend of jazz and Brazilian music that shaped each of them as they embarked on notable but diverging careers in music. Two decades on, and with the addition of young bassist Bruno Migotto, “Varanda”, the quintet’s debut, reflects well the eclectic roots and youthful camerarderie of its members, deepened and honed by the maturity gleaned from twenty-something years of study and experience. On this wonderful recording the five Brazilian virtuosos explore the far-reaching crossroads of modern jazz and Brazilian music through nine original compositions and the aptly chosen standard ‘Yesterdays’.

There is a lovely, warm, nostalgic feel to this album. One can sense the friendship and love of music coming out of the speakers as the light and breezy music fills the room with joy and early morning sunshine. Like a Spring sunrise lighting up the day, it puts a smile on my face and contentment in my heart. “We all share a common background” says Felipe Salles, “We have the same early influences and figured out who we wanted to be as musicians around the same time. From sitting in a room in college listening to music together to so many years later having established ourselves in the field, it’s quite a nice thing to come back and reunite on the other side of the spectrum from where you started.”

Salles and Pinheiro share the longest relationship according to the saxophonist. The two spent countless hours listening to fusion-era jazz giants like Weather Report, the Yellowjackets and Pat Metheny, alongside Brazilian icons like Elis Regina, Milton Nascimento and Hermeto Pascoal. And although much water has passed under the bridge since those formative years of discovery, it is very much apparent on listening to this album that the seeds were sown early on. With time and experience comes maturity, and there is a clear sense of this throughout all of the tunes on this session, with a relaxed feel allowing the musicians to produce some richly rewarding music.

There is a natural chemistry that comes from the musicians knowing each other so well, and this shines brightly throughout the album. Each member of the band brought in new compositions, all written with each other in mind. And it shows. The opening tune ‘Sinuosa’ sets the tone, with its formidable writing and stylish performances. A Brecker-esque saxophone melody cuts through the South American rhythms as the band gel immediately. Pinheiro’s guitar playing is particularly stunning, with a gorgeous solo lifting the tune even further. There’s a beautiful warmth to ‘Cobalt Blue’ as Costa’s gorgeous piano chords take us into this piece, the tune bringing the best out of all of the musicians. ‘Maracatim’ is a light and breezy tune that enjoys a care-free feel to it. There’s a sincerity to ‘Sunset’ that breathes out a touch of class and elegance. As with many of the tunes here, the soloing is of the highest order, but it’s never at the expense of the tune itself. Everything is integrated so well, so naturally. The musicians combine their talents with an effortless grace. The tunes are masterfully written and performed, and on ‘Jack and The Goblin Brother’, the quintet stretch out and flex their musical muscles with some incredible soloing. I love the way the Brazilian and contemporary jazz styles are fused so effortlessly. The listenable richness of sound belies its complexities, and with great solos from Salles and Ribeiro, this is one of those tunes that excites and startles in equal measure. The title track ‘Varanda’ has a gentleness to it that is soft and touching. It might sound a little odd to say this, but it’s like a cross between a 1940’s ballroom classic and an esoteric tune appearing on an ECM release… but it works very well. ‘Reunion’ typifies what this band do so well by integrating memorable melodies and catchy hooks, with intelligent playing. The skillful art of composition continues with ‘Mathias’, sounding almost like something from the Mehldau/Metheny songbook. ‘BR’ is a jazzier piece that manages to be thoughtful, lively and foot-tapping all at the same time. The writing really is impeccable, but the way this quartet breathe life and energy into the tunes is a joy to experience. The album closes with ‘Yesterdays’, a somewhat poignant title to the end of an album that actually heralds new beginnings for this excellent quintet.

An uplifting album in so many ways, The Reunion Project’s ‘Varanda’ will be an album I come back to whenever I need a bit of a lift. Or just because I need a reminder of how great musicians come together as friends and make great music together.

Mike Gates