Devotees of the Brasilian musical diaspora – of those brilliant expatriates who have made a name for themselves in the USA, that is – will certainly be familiar with the name Nanny Assis. However, many such devotees – even those highly aware of the name – will probably know him from his activities as a highly sensitive percussionist colourist albeit one who dwelt – until now – in the shadows, leaving those musicians to whom he lent his gifts to bask in the limelight. But this will no longer be the case, thanks to this album Rovanio – The Music of Nanny Assis.
So extraordinarily beautiful – and unique – is the music of Nanny Assis that even if he never makes another album of his own music, with this repertoire Mr Assis will have forever established himself as one of the foremost contemporary Brasilian composers. The album may be comparatively short – ten tracks – but that will be all that is necessary to cast a permanent spell on his listeners.
Mr Assis does all the singing. Well, almost all: in fact, he shares the microphone with his son Dani Assis and daughter, Laura Assis, who are equally brilliant as singers, and this is where his prodigious gifts begin to shine. His is a voice as soft and mesmerising as João Gilberto and Tom Jobim. The latter two Brasilian legends made a name for themselves seducing their legions of fans by singing off-key. Mr Assis does not do that. His vocals are characterized by eloquence that soars, pliant and lustrous. In this regard he leaves a mark on this music that is indelible and for this he must be regarded as an artist of the first order.
But it is principally as a composer that Mr Assis has established himself on the nine [of ten] originals on this album. Mr Assis clearly has a great melodic talent. We experience this at every turn, from the sublime opening – a song entitled No Agora and subtitled Mr. Bow Tie, to honour the great contrabassist Ron Carter, who graces the recording with his irreplaceable presence, not anchoring the rhythm chair with his contrabass, but dazzling with his insolent virtuosity and the melodic and harmonic riches with which he embellishes the rhythmist’s chair.
The other [harmonic] end of the music is occupied by the dazzling guitarist Chico Pinheiro, another important Brasilian musician inhabiting the United States. Mr Pinheiro is the shining mirror held up to Mr Assis’ music, but not so much to reflect the singer’s ideas, but – with his [the guitarist’s arrangements] to embellish the music with harmonic voicings; to complete them in an orchestral fashion – and, with the assistance of [strings arrangers] Tiago Costa and Ivan Bastos and the St Petersburg Studio Orchestra – to also add a symphonic sheen to No Agora, Nenhum and The Northern Sea.
Of course, these are not the only musicians who make significant contributions to Rovanio, a thrilling work, full of high drama and wonderful melodies and a joy to listen to. The cast of extraordinary musicians [fully listed below] also includes flugelhorn player Randy Brecker, brilliant saxophonists Lakecia Benjamin and John Ellis, the incomparable contrabassist Jorge Helder, a celebrated alumnus of Chico Buarque’s ensembles, and Vinicius Cantuária, Fred Hersch and Janis Siegel to name a few.
But make no mistake, this disc has the indelible stamp of mastery that belongs to Nanny Assis. He is not only the leader and principal composer, but the glue that binds this seamless expedition together, weaving his distinctive ideas into music that is quite breathtaking and unforgettable.
YouTube Playlist – Rovanio – The Music of Nanny Assis
Music – 1: No Agora; 2: Nenhum; 3: Manhã de Carnaval; 4: Amor Omisso; 5: Humankind; 6: Back to Bahia; 7: Proponho; 8: The Northern Sea; 9: Insensatez; 10: Intimate Acquaintances.
Musicians – Nanny Assis: vocals and percussion; Fred Hersch: piano ; Chico Pinheiro: guitar [1 – 6, 8 – 10]; Randy Brecker: flugelhorn ; Lakecia Benjamin: alto saxophone ; Igor Butman: alto saxophone ; John Ellis: soprano saxophone  and alto saxophone ; Mattan Klein: flute ; Emanuel Yerday: spoken word ; Ron Carter: contrabass [1 – 3, 5, 6, 8 – 10]; Jorge Helder: contrabass ; Ulysses Owens Jr: drums [1, 10]; Rafael Barata: drums [8, 9]; Laérico Da Costa: percussion ; Kainã De Jêje: percussion ; Marco Brasil: percussion ; Luizinho De Jêje: percussion ; Vinicius Cantuária: vocal, guitar and percussion ; Dani Assis: vocals [1 – 5]; Janis Siegel: vocals ; Laura Assis: vocals ; St Petersburg Studio Orchestra: strings [1, 2, 8]; Tiago Costa: string arrangements [1, 2]; Ivan Bastos: string arrangements ; St Petersburg Studio Orchestra – Kira Malevskaia: artistic director; Kelber Augusto: strings director.
Released – 2023
Label – In+Out Records [IOR CD 77152-2]
Runtime – 49:24
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