Of the many non-Brasilian ensembles in the United States besotted with “choro,” the music of Brasil and, not simply drawn to it, but actually performing it, Grupo Falso Baiano may very possibly be the finest. The quartet of Jesse Appelman (mandolin), Zack Pitt-Smith (woodwinds), Brian Moran (guitars and cavaquinho) and Ami Molinelli (pandeiro and percussion) focus their attention on Brasilian “choro,” on Viajando: Choro e Jazz, a record that consists of 13 tracks sweeping across a hundred years of “choro.”
What is remarkable about this record is the consistently fabulous and contemporary treatment of “choro”. Some of the older “choro,” in fact, such as “De Coração a Coração” and on “Carioquinho” and other Waldir Azevedo compositions, as on Bonfiglio de Oliveira’s “Alzira,” as on Jacob do Bandolim’s “Biruta” and others, the classical music played with bare feet and calloused hands truly comes to life. Remarkably the music also sounds fresh as the “choro” written by more recent masters -Hermeto, Baden Powell and Hamilton de Hollanda.
There is a wonderful synergy between Appelman, Moran, Pitt-Smith and Molinelli. This is what drives the music in the truest tradition of Brasilian lament. Not only are the string players virtuoso instrumentalists just as Zack Pitt-Smith is with his horns, but they appear to dance around each other in a fabulous interplay that is worthy of the best “choro” bands put together by Hermeto and de Hollanda. Molinelli can slap the pandeiro as well as the finest percussionists. On Baden Powell’s “Canto de Ossanha” she holds her own with Michael Spiro, who also guests on conga.
Here, too, the classic rondo form of the “choro” gets its finest showcase. This is true of all the tracks on the record, but Baden Powell’s composition, just as Hermeto’s “Viajando Pelo Brasil” before that are the highlights of the art of “choro” of today. The AABBACCA form and changing keys are superbly highlighted, as is the form on “Arrasta-Pé,” Azevedo’s offering with which Grupo Baiano close the set. But while the documentary nature of the record gives it considerable weight, the joie de vivre of the musicians and their virtuosity of the highest order is what makes this a first class record. If this were the group’s debut, the sophomore offering would be even more eagerly awaited.
De Ben com e Vida; Carioquinha; Beliscando; Irmãos Super Mario; Samba de Lua; Biruta; De Coração a Coração; Aquarela na Quixaba; Alzira; Viajando pelo Brasil; Conversa de Baiana; Canto de Ossanha; Arrasta-Pé.
Zack Pitt-Smith: woodwinds; Jesse Appelman: mandolin (except tracks 9 & 10); Brian Moran: steel and nylon string guitars, cavaquinho; Ami Molinelli: pandeiro, zabumba, percussion. With Guests: Jovino Santos Neto: accordion (10, 13), melodica: (4); Mike Marshall: mandolin (7); Eva Scow: mandolin (7, 9, 10); Jorge Alabe: percussion (8); Michael Spiro: congas, percussion, birdcalls (4, 8, 12); Brian Rice: tamborim (4).
Grupo Falso Baiano on the web: www.grupofalsobaiano.com
Review written by: Raul da Gama