Brazilian vocalist Ithamara Koorax and the Swiss trio of pianist Hans-Peter Pfammatter, Trumpeter Peter Schärli and bassist Thomas D?rst work together to transcend any barriers of culture and physical distance. Switzerland, where the core of this group is from is not the first area one thinks about when considering Latin Jazz!
These musicians are finely tuned with each other, particularly in the title cut, but why, oh why did they choose to leave out percussion, with the exception of piano? It creates a strange and gaping hole in the otherwise beautiful arrangements. A number of years ago LP and other music companies would produce training recordings where all players were top-notch and percussion was purposely left out, thereby allowing students to learn by playing along with the records. It was a training exercise. Unfortunately, to me that is what much of this otherwise tasteful and creative recording sounds like. To eliminate such important voices from Brazilian music in particular is like trying to play a chord with one finger.
Happily, Koorax has a very rich, earthy quality to her voice, allowing a sense of grounding to anchor the arrangements and the tight lock of the rhythm section is solid enough to lessen the size of the previously mentioned gaping hole in the sound.
Granted, this reviewer is a professional percussionist. In order to ensure the missing sound was not merely a personal bias, I played the recording without comment for a non-musician friend. She found the music to be pretty…but also felt something was missing although she wasn’t sure what.
Despite that perplexing reflection, this is an interesting project that expresses a love of Brazilian style Latin Jazz. Tender piano begins the first offering, Fotographia, before the velvety voice of Koorax enters. Her interpretation is moving, mature and sweet. There seems to be just a tiny bit more reverb effect on her voice than I am comfortable with. I wanted to hear her voice without any echo at all. Her vocal timbre is a nice match with the deep, spacious and rich tones of Schärli’s trumpet. Each musician’s phrasing envelops the other’s, evoking a haunting emotional power to this beloved Jobim composition.
In Sandalia Dela the trumpet carries the tune with a crisp, clear sound that contrasts the previous cut. As the vocals and rhythm section enter, the trumpet does a fantastic job of mimicking a cuica voice. Yes, I miss hearing an actual cuica here, but I thought this was a fun and playful choice. Mixing trumpet and vocals is not always easy and beautiful, but here it works. Hans-Peter Pfammatter delivers a fun piano solo in this arrangement that rides over a slightly dirty bass. I feel it would benefit this version to bring the vocals out over the instruments a little, yet it is a fun and energetic piece that all four musicians deliver well.
Septembro has a better balance between the levels of vocals and trumpet work, resulting in a more attractive blend. This allows a fuller appreciation of Koorax and Schärli’s intelligent and heartfelt interplay. Pfammatter delivers a lovely use of dynamics in the piano work in this piece.
Pfammatter composed the next cut, Wedileto, where the pitch skills and vocal control of Koorax are highlighted as she enters in concert with the trumpet. The vocals and trumpet use the same tones, an unusual choice.
The title cut, O Grande Amor, is a Jobim/Moraes tune which is beloved and has been covered by many artists around the globe. Here it is given a beautiful treatment with skillfully interpreted vocals by Koorax, strengthened even more by attentive piano accompaniment. With muted trumpet by Schärli and a cleaner, steady bottom bassline held up by Thomas D?rst, this is the most elegant, lyrical piece on the recording.
The samba Deixa breaks the soulful mood with a lively, relaxed version of the Baden Powell/Vinicius de Moraes composition. It contains thoughtful trumpet work – but loses quite a bit of potential from the lack of percussion, despite the good lock of bass and piano. This is another tune where vocal and trumpet play with the same tones simultaneously.
Entering with vocals and bowed bass, Para Machucar Meu Coraçao brings in a haunting flavor before it moves into a steady, pretty version of this classic. The mix is improved in this cut, with the vocals and trumpet not competing as much when appearing together in the composition. The trumpet solo contains very thoughtful phrases, with the piano solo picking up on those and carrying it forward.
The final piece, Zum Zum begins with wild, outspoken sounds and at last works in some percussion from bass and piano as the musicians explore other parts of their instruments, hitting the soundboards and strings to create percussion. Overtones are allowed to ring freely, filling in space before the bass and piano fall into steady rhythm. Koorax’s delightful vocals fall in and pulling the tune together actually drive the piece forward while the trumpet lines soar above the rhythm and vocals.
Despite the glaring omittance of percussion, this CD has many outstanding moments and is an interesting project, especially for fans of the beauty of Koorax’s voice and phrasing.
2. Sandalia Dela
5. O Grande Amor
7. Para Machucar Meu Coraçao
8. Zum Zum
Ithamara Koorax, vocals
Hans-Peter Pfammatter, piano
Thomas D?rst, bass
Peter Schärli, trumpet
Produced by TCB Music and Peter Schärli