The all-pervasive African element that is intrinsic to the cultural topography of Brasilian music, all-too-often gets the short shrift when it comes to exposure of that kind of [Brasilian] music outside of the country. Mass music media is often too short-sighted to see beyond “samba” to take a deeper dive into Afro-Brasilian music. Moreover, anything even remotely Afri-Brasilian may likely have been consigned to the so-named “ethnomusicological bin” by an industry too ignorant of any Brasilian other than Tom Jobim – albeit the fact that he was indeed, one of the greatest musicians Brasil has ever produced.
But what about Moacir Santos? And what about legendary figures like Hermeto Pascoal, Egberto Gismonti and Nana Vasconcelos, Guinga and others, all of whom remain “marginal figures” in the US, for instance [though not in Europe, where they are venerated]. And what about the great Letieres Leite, or Wilson Das Neves? And there are scores of other living musicians such as André Mehmari, Mônica Salmaso, Mart’nália [to name just three] who continue to create and release excellent music [some more consistently than others].
Paulo Almeida is one of those musicians. He is a percussionist founded on a line that draws inspiration from both Hermeto Pascoal and Nana – and the music he has released on Oferenda [ANUK Music] is evocative of candomblé, the African diasporic religion, developed in Brasil during the 19th century, which arose through a process of syncretism between several of the traditional religions of West Africa, especially those of the Yoruba, Bantu, and Gbe [similar to the syncretism in the Lucumi of Cuba, for instance].
A prodigious composer with an inspired sense of the modern, Mr Almeida has found a novel way of improvising around the complex rhythmic structures [especially] of candomblé. He has also found a way to infuse his compositions with other Afro-Brasilian dance rhythms such as forró, repente, coco de roda, axé, sertanejo, choro, and maracatu. Also, unlike much of the formulaic music produced by many Brasilians of this generation outside Brasil, who have broken through the sound barrier and cut albums of their own, Mr Almeida’s music is refreshingly different.
The music on his album is like an elegant railway system linking the elements of his own Afro-Brasilian lineage with jazz and the chamber music of the post-serialist 21st century conservatoire; consequently, music that is currently propelling many contemporary releases. But to describe it as such would be to give the impression that the music on this album is overcooked, when, in fact, the whole project is a masterpiece of subtlety.
One has only to listen to works such as Oké and Odoya to discern how Mr Almeida has taken what is at the heart of his Afro-Brasilian heritage and fused it into the lineage of cool, spacey trumpet and saxophone lines, summoning woodwind-like tones from the brass and – quite magically – soft brass tones from the woodwinds which float benignly over the sound of the rhythm section led by the piano, bass and percussion.
The former work is embellished by liquid guitar and vocalastics from Lionel Loueke, who repeats the performance on another magical piece, Red as Blood, which has a rippling jazzy groove that gently builds under Mr Almeida’s brooding percussive rumbling Afro-Brasilian groove, before it is picked up by leaping arpeggios from the piano of Lorenzo Vitolo.
The magnificent ensemble continues to swing on other pieces, remain reflective on others, enhanced by meditative chants accompanied by saxophone cadenzas [as on Lit Candles] set alight by the growing, hiss and sizzle of Mr Almeida’s cymbals, redolent of gleaming gongs in a gamelan-like riff at the close.
Throughout this album Mr Almeida together with Mr Vitale continue to ring in the changes in mood, structure, and tempo, making for a constantly interesting programme. The considerable degree of balance and integration of melody and harmony into Afro-Brasilian and more free, worldly-wise rhythms, of composition and improvisation, of exploration, individuality and tradition is impressively maintained throughout this wonderful recording.
YouTube Video – Paulo Almeida ft. Lionel Loueke: OKÊ
Music – 1: Oké; 2: Raindrops; 3: Haffnung; 4: Odoya; 5: Starting Over; 6: Red as Blood; 7: Lit Candles; 8: Entidade; 9: Walking in Peace.
Musicians – Lorenzo Vitolo: piano and synthesizers; Devin Daniels: alto saxophone and synthesizer; Oscar Latorre: trumpet; Thiago Alves: contrabass; Paulo Almeida: composition and arrangements, drums, percussion and voice.
Special Guests – Lionel Loueke: guitar and voice [1, 6]; Alberto Garcia: percussion [1, 4].
Released – 2023
Label – ANUK 
Runtime – 59:40
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