Of the many mesmerising narratives of Orpheus and Eurydice—both classical and modern—one of the finest is contained in the dramatic re-setting of the myth in Brazil by the poet Vinicius de Moraes. His play, with music by Antonio Carlos Jobim was set in Rio and centred round the Carnival, with the principal characters—Orpheus and Eurydice—cast as a musician and dancer from a fabled escola samba from that city. Orfeu de Conseição was premiered at the Municipal Theatre in Rio in September 1956 and had sets by the legendary modern architect Oscar Niemeyer. It was the first time that black actors took the stage in Brazil; a historic moment in Brazilian performing arts. With the French Director Marcel Camus’ 1959 French language film, Black Orpheus, again set in Brazil and based on Vinicius de Moraes’ play, the Brazilian version of the Greek legend grew in worldwide popularity. In 1999, the Brazilian film director, Carlos Diegues, recreated the play in a celebrated film, Orfeu with the famous composer and singer Caetano Veloso also writing songs and incidental music for that film. And then in 2010, the renowned director Aderbal Freire Filho restaged Vinicius de Moraes’ play once again to rave reviews in Brazil with the cellist Jacques Morelenbaum and Jaime Alem as musical directors.
And now comes a beautiful album featuring the music and lyrics of the play from Motema Music. Nilson Matta’s Black Orpheus tells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice with monumental skill, great intellect, great joy and elemental sadness; all of this wrapped up in the inimitable fabric of Brazilian magic. The music here, quite brilliantly interpreted also contains much incidental music and a couple of additional songs by the formidable Brazilian bassist, is also considerably re-imagined and re-orchestrated. First of all, there is one of the most beautiful overtures to open the album and this features some superb playing by Mr. Matta con arco in a melodic and harmonic fabric that underlines this chart. That “Overture” is also a feature piece for some wonderful playing by trumpeter Randy Brecker. Then there are the most recognizable songs from the play: “A Felicidade,” “Eu E O Meu Amor/Lamento No Morro” as well as the two classic charts by Luis Bonfá might easily become instant classics. The first song features the legendary Leny Andrade singing the vocal. Ms. Andrade’s famous contralto gives the song its elemental melancholic air and recreates the personality of Orpheus as the tragic bard in a most unforgettable manner. Ms. Andrade also follows this beautiful vocal with another magnetic performance in a recreation of the final moments of Orpheus on “Se Todos Fossem Iguais A Você”. Perhaps the truly stunning moments come in the form of Gretchen Parlato’s Portuguese vocals on “Eu E O Meu Amor/Lamento No Morro” and the exquisite “Valse De Eurídice” “Samba De Orfeu” is made more memorable with a glorious performance by Anat Cohen on clarinet and “Manhã De Carnaval” is graced by one of the finest performances of its melody by the pianist Kenny Barron.
The new music for this album comes in the form of several brief interludes by the percussion colourists featured on the album. Fernando Saci, Jorjão Silva and Reinaldo Silva each contribute magnificent improvisations on the short time they have and keep the setting for the story—in the brilliantly lively moments of a Carnival—front and centre. The percussionists are rightfully given time to shine solo. This might be construed as a small stroke of genius on the part of Nilson Matta. The bassist is himself the principal player in many respects. He has written other fine music for this album. “Ascend My Love” is a wonderfully tragic piece created to celebrate Orpheus rising from the depths of Hades. The dramatic tension in the bass solo captures so completely what are some of the tensest moments in the story and the especially mighty tension seemingly felt by Eurydice prior to her imminent and final disappearance. Quite the opposite of the mood of this piece is Mr. Matta’s emotional energy of “Hugs and Kisses” a decidedly uplifting one that pulls the dramaturgy out of its ocean of tragedy to end on a relatively positive note. Most of all there is the astounding performance of Nilson Matta. His bass playing has always been regarded as being on the cutting edge of the magical playing of that instrument. Here too Mr. Matta reinforces his reputation as one of the finest bassists playing today. His sense of melody is almost unparalleled. Never unnecessarily forceful on his instrument, Mr. Matta relies on great technique and finesse to make his presence felt. His playing is pure and the notes he strikes resound with gentle authority. His soli are brief and ring with characteristic Brazilian colour and are dripping with a sense of saudade. A formidable player whether playing pizzicato or con arco, Mr. Matta plays lines that lope and gambol with swaggering energy. His lines form exquisite arcs and parabolas that also come to rest on that precise moment when the melody becomes proper once again. This album is clearly his finest hour and foretells of much more great work to come.
Tracks: Overture; Repinique Interlude; Samba De Orfeu; A Felicidade; Cuica Interlude; O Nosso Amor; Manhã De Carnaval; Batucada I; Eu E O Meu Amor/Lamento No Morro; Frevo De Orfeu; Valsa De Eurídice; Ascend, My Love; Um Nome De Mulher; Batucada II; Se Todos Fossem Iguais A Você; Violão Interlude; Hugs And Kisses.
Personnel: Nilson Matta: bass; Leny Andrade: vocal (4, 15); Kenny Barron: piano (3, 7, 10); Randy Brecker: trumpet (1, 6, 17); Alfredo Cardim: piano (4, 15); Anat Cohen: clarinet (3, 10, 13); Anne Drummond: flute (1, 9, 11, 17); Alex Kautz: drums (1, 3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 17); Laura Metcalf: clarinet (1); Guilherme Monteiro: guitar (1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 10, 11, 13, 16, 17); Klaus Mueller: piano (1, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 17); Gretchen Parlato: vocal (9, 11); Fernando Saci: percussion (3, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17); Erivelton Silva: drums (4, 15); Jorjão Silva: percussion (8, 14, 17); Reinaldo Silva: percussion (2, 8, 14, 17).
Label: Motema Music | Release date: February 2013
About Nilson Matta
2009 Grammy nominee Nilson Matta has been a creative force in the evolution and popularity of Brazilian Jazz in the United States. Not long after he came to New York in 1985, he was performing and recording with Grammy-winning jazz greats Joe Henderson, Don Pullen, Kenny Barron, Bob Mintzer and Randy Brecker, as well as Herbie Mann, Lee Konitz and Mark Murphy. Drawing from these collaborations, and from his work with Brazilian luminaries such as Hermeto Pascoal, Joao Gilberto, Luis Bonfa, and Johnny Alf in Brazil, (to name a few), Matta has developed his own musical signature making him a first-call bass player of Brazilian music and jazz musicians. It’s not surprising therefore, that when Yo Yo Ma sought band members for his Brazilian project, Nilson was the obvious choice for bass. Their recording of two Grammy CDs (Obrigado Brazil and Brazil – Live in Concert) prompted a two-year worldwide tour touching every corner of the globe.
A founding member of two internationally acclaimed groups – Trio Da Paz (Rumero Lumbabo, guitar; Duduka Da Fonseca, drums) and Brazilian Trio (Helio Alves, piano; Duduka de Fonseca, drums) – Matta has emerged in recent years as bandleader, composer, arranger and producer. In 2008, he released Walking With My Bass, an autobiographical CD incorporating special guests from his long and distinguished career: João Bosco, Ivan Lins, Harry Allen, Rosa Passos, Robertinho Silva, Mauricio Einhorn, Joyce, Helio Alves, Vic Juris, Filó Machado, Claudio Roditi, Kenny Barron, and more. His next release, Brazilian Voyage – Copacabana on Zoho Records took listeners on a musical journey through Brazil’s diverse geographic regions – via Matta’s artful arranging of classics masterpieces (e.g.,Villa Lobos), not to mention Matta’s original compositions such as Baden and Copacabana which have earned him wide acclaim as a composer. His CD Black Orpheus was released February 2013 by Motema.
Matta is committed to passing on his talents and experiences to the next generation. He is a member of the International Society of Bassists, making frequent appearances as a featured guest and performer at the ISB conventions. He has taught at NYC’s Bass Collective, Litchfield Jazz Camp, and has conducted master classes worldwide. As Artistic and Music Director of Samba Meets Jazz Workshops in Bar Harbor Maine (SmJ-Bar Harbor) and Samba Meets Jazz Workshops – Brazil (SmJ-Brazil), he has become a leading figure in promoting the music he is passionate about – Brazilian Jazz.