When you are so perfectly attuned to your ancestry and your culture as Felipe Salles is then you are halfway to producing the most perfect interpretation of the song your grandmother – not your mother, but your grandmother – taught you. Then, if you’re Mr Salles, you will extrapolate on the idea and inhabit its core; and surface again with what becomes The Lullaby Project, a monumental, large ensemble retelling of the story that you grew by; the story that you would want to craft for another generation to listen to, go to bed to and wake up to, transformed as if by the magic of its music.
Who knew that Felipe Salles was a griot? But then who says he could not be one? Growing up Brasilian and cognizant of your Afro-Brasilian cultural background there is never a time when the stories that you heard from the griots in your past will surface. Crafting that into one for the ages yourself is, however, quite another matter. But Mr Salles has created a number of significant works of music in the past. His musical antennae have been tuned to the borderless surroundings of his mind’s mind. So in a sense he has been honing his musicianship – and composing skills – for a project of this immensity all his working life. Then comes the result of a deep-dive into the very heart of “the lullaby”. Commonly a “cradle-song”, the lullaby is perfectly calming, but can also be quintessentially dark and Mr Salles’ suite is a glorious amalgam of both – a modern-day, wordless “Dorme neném” (“Sleep Little Baby”) that although not sung here, conjures all that is (sung) about “Cuca”, a folk character very feared by children in his Brasil, but (heard here) in a modern context.
The five movements of The “Lullaby” Project is a sound world unto itself and one not far from sounding as if it were infused Mahler-like. By that one associates this music as being crammed with a teeming life on earth – from funeral marches to vast images of nature, from ironically quoted popular tunes and dances to great apostrophes to love. Far from being a purely abstract work composed and played entirely in the “tradition” Mr Salles has crafted strong extra-musical elements, incorporating poems – even perhaps religious texts, certainly stories possessing an ambitious philosophical “programme” into the suite. Inevitably this has resulted in a kind of small “body of work” (Lullabies 1 – 5) that has come to a kind of miracle of music performed by this large and illustrious ensemble with Mr Salles conducting. One marvels at how he shapes phrases with attention paid to every nuance of the score. Sleep, as it were comes as the child is enveloped by darkness, traverses a subterranean world but, in the highly evocative “Lullaby #5”, awakes into a “primeval light”, almost as if being granted a kind of immortality as, in a grand sweep of music the players’ performance is magnificent and overwhelming.
Finally, the three “tango-inspired” works that follow the core composition belong conceptually and emotionally – if not psychologically and philosophically – to this project. Here Mr Salles “visits” the Argentina of his mind and experience and what comes across – especially in “Carla’s Tango” – is a feeling of spontaneity and sheer joy in the music. Of course, Mr Salles has also deeply subsumed the form of the tango and in addition to breathing empathetically into its unique rhythm and sensuality he renders his pieces with a dark and gleaming radiance that sets them apart from much of what is being written in this form. One is also treated to the (in this instance, rare) additional pleasure of listening to him soar in a soprano saxophone solo on “Carla’s Tango”. In every instance – “Lullaby” and “Tango” the response from members of this ensemble to Mr Salles’ direction is electrifying in its level of commitment and this is a tremendously exciting performance.
Track list – 1: Lullaby #1; 2: Lullaby #2; 3: Lullaby #3; 4: Lullaby #4; 5: Lullaby #5; 6: Odd Tango; 7: Astor Square; 8: Carla’s Tango
Personnel – Felipe Salles: composer, arranger, conductor and soprano sax (8); Jeff Holmes: trumpet and flugelhorn; Yuta Yamaguchi: trumpet and flugelhorn; Eric Smith: trumpet and flugelhorn; Doug Olsen: trumpet and flugelhorn; Richard Garcia: alto, soprano saxophone and flute; Jonathan Ball: alto, soprano saxophone and flute; Mike Caudill: tenor, soprano saxophone and clarinet; Jacob Shulman: tenor saxophone and clarinet; Tyler Burchfield: baritone saxophone and bass clarinet; Joel Yennior: trombone; Clayton DeWalt: trombone (1-5, 7); Dan Hendrix: trombone (6, 8); Randy Pingrey: trombone; Angel Subero: bass trombone; Nando Michelin: piano and melodica; Kevin Grudecki: guitar; Ryan Fedak: vibraphone; Keala Kaumeheiwa: contrabass; Bertram Lehmann: drums
Released – 2018
Label – Tapestry Records (76028 – 2)
Runtime – 1:13:29
Rique Pantoja: Live in Los Angeles
The West Coast of the United States has had a rather long – and celebrated – association with the music of Brasil. Rique Pantoja is tapping into the Brasilliance on his Live in Los Angeles album. Moacir Santos created by far the greatest series music when he moved to Pasadena, California from Brasil in 1967. He quickly began turning heads with his spectacular take on the lineage of the [post bebop] cool, melding it with the music of his home-state, Pernambuco, in his very singular mix of other dance forms from Brasil. Other influential Brasilian musicians whose artistry collided with West Coast Cool were Cesar Camargo Mariano, Airto and Flora Purim [when she was there once upon a time] to name a few Brasilians who influenced the North American West Coast sound.
Rique Pantoja, by virtue of his extraordinary musicianship, his long-limbed compositions that seem to roll along with their exquisite, naturally danceable rhythms, can also lay claim to this august line of musicians. His music, captured on this beautifully-recorded album seems to express the sheer joy – the alegria – of being alive and in love. The composer [and pianist] seems to indulge fully his predisposition for dreamscapes as he is on stage, allowing the lyrical saxophonist [and flutist] Steve Tavaglione to stretch and take extraordinary melodic and harmonic excursions with winding, lyrical lines of his own seemingly intoxicated by the enraptured emotions ensconced in the music.
The pianist’s poetic fantasies – such as we listen to on “Da Baiana” – evoke images of voluptuous eloquence in the form of a sultry, baiana, rhythmically hip-swishing her way down along fine white sand of the Coconut Coast in Bahia. With rippling keyboard grooves, Mr Pantoja conjures vivid, lifelike imagery of surf beating around us, while Mr Tavaglione’s flute, with cascading lines from the guitar of Ricardo Silveira wail and moan and whistle melodically. Meanwhile the percussionist – Cassio Duarte – and drummer Joel Taylor – re-create the sizzle and steamy seduction of baiana’s rolling rhythm along with the deep rumble of the bass played with extraordinary facility by Jimmy Earl.
“Arpoador” is one of the finest songs on the album that had already mesmerised the audience with its tintinnabulation of the keyboards introducing the opening strains of Mr Pantoja’s magical and mystical song. Even under the Brasilliance of “1000 Watts” the audience seems to be under the hypnotic spell of the music from then on… a spell that is only broken when Rique Pantoja and this marvelous ensemble gently awaken them with the balladic – and balletic – aural dreamscape of “Pra Lili”, to close a beautiful set that offers an astonishing insight into Mr Pantoja’s artistic conception.
Tracks – 1: Arpoador; 2: Julinho; 3: 1000 Watts; 4: Da Baiana; 5: Bebop Kid; 6: Que Loucura; 7: Morena; 8: Pra Lili
Musicians – Ricardo Silveira: guitar; Steve Tavaglione: saxophones and flute; Rique Pantoja: keyboards and vocals; Jimmy Earl: bass; Joel Taylor: drums; Cassio Duarte: percussion
Released – 2022
Label – Moondo Music [MDO-2022
Runtime – 1:08:13
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