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Herbie Mann: Brazil Was Home Too


Herbie Mann: Brazil Was Home Too

Herbie Mann became one of the first American jazz artists to
record
bossa nova. In the album Do The Bossa Nova With Herbie
Mann, he featured a novice Brazilian composer named Antonio
Carlos Jobim. In his later years, Mann returned to his first
loves, Brazil and bop, for his musical grounding.

by:

Joe Lopes

 

It was with great sadness that I read the other day of the passing on July 1, 2003, at age 73, of jazz giant Herbie Mann.

Herbert Jay Solomon was born in 1930, in the Northeast section of the United States (Brooklyn, New York), and
died in the Southwestern portion of it (Pecos, New Mexico), but his real home was most probably the planet Earth.

A superb flutist, Mann was one of the pioneers in bringing the silvery instrument out of the stuffiness of the
orchestra pit and into the smoky spotlight of countless jazz joints, nightclubs and cafés the world over. He was originally a
clarinetist who later took up the tenor saxophone before finally pressing his lips to the elongated eloquence of the flute; it was a
literal love at first drawn breath. His playing ultimately achieved a remarkable airiness and bounce that would greatly
contribute to the making of the flute into a popular and essential focus of the modern jazz ensemble.

Mann’s extensive career took him on a restless globetrotting quest for newer and ever more exotic musical herbs. A
true ethnologist, he was forever shaping and honing his beloved craft, but always in the service of his creations and their
multi-ethnic origins.

In 1961, he paid his first visit to Brazil, which led to a lifelong association with that country’s unique harmonies and
infectious toe-tapping rhythms. Mann became one of the first American jazz artists to discover and record the novelty known as
bossa nova, still in its early infancy. The album he made at the time was titled
Do The Bossa Nova With Herbie Mann, and
featured guitarist Baden Powell, the young Sérgio Mendes, and a novice Brazilian composer named Antonio Carlos Jobim. The
rest, shall we say, was musical history.

Mann continued to experiment with a multiplicity of musical forms and styles, incorporating bebop, pop, rock, jazz,
fusion, reggae, disco, R&B, Latin, African, Oriental and Middle Eastern influences into his performing grooves. In his later
years, he even looked to his own Eastern European cultural roots for inspiration, but inevitably returned to his first loves,
Brazil and bop, for his musical grounding.

My principal remembrance of this side of Herbie Mann was his 1990 album
Caminho de Casa (The Road Home) for Chesky Records. On it Mann played works by a veritable buffet of Brazilian songwriters: pianist and arranger Nelson Ayres;
vocalist and guitarist Dori Caymmi; singer/composer Ivan Lins; crooners Roberto and Erasmo Carlos; ex-Novo Baiano Moraes
Moreira; perennial jazz favorite Milton Nascimento; and his own original composition "Yesterday’s Kisses" tossed into the
salada for added spice.

His band mates for the recording sessions included several artists that comprised his Jasil Brazz jazz combo at the
time, among them Paul Socolow on bass, Mark Soskin and Eduardo (Edward) Simon on piano, Ricky Sebastian on drums,
Romero Lubambo on acoustic guitar, and the wonderful Café on percussion.

For me, the album’s success is due in large part to the air of delicacy and lightness that is sustained throughout the
program. There isn’t a heavy-handed moment on it, and even Socolow’s growling electric bass lines are tamed in the
general low-key approach to things. The spare use of percussion and other distracting sound effects are kept to a minimum,
credit for which must be given to the individual arrangers, as well as to Café’s solid studio experience.

Mann gets things moving right from the opening track with the bouncy and jaunty title tune by Nelson Ayres. His
flitting flute work along with Romero’s plucky guitar licks constantly challenge and support each other in a fabulous game of
one-upmanship, as Eduardo on piano picks up the thread at key moments by doubling with the flute on the main theme. It’s a
perfect blend of two disparate elements, with the melody soaring up into the studio stratosphere and staying with the listener
long after the song’s end.

The next two pieces are at a decidedly slower tempo, but they’re no less emotionally charged. The electricity
generated by that first number continues into Dori Caymmi’s lovely "Gabriela’s Song," at once delicate and mild, lyrical and light,
a summertime breeze that stays bewitchingly in the flute’s earthy lower register, which stresses both the instrument’s
sonorous and sensuous sides.

Ivan Lins and Maurício Tapajós’ song about a woman who disappeared during Brazil’s military dictatorship,
"Aparecida," has its own moment in the limelight. It’s a beautifully languid air employing a
lilting bossa nova beat and a soft sinuous
statement, offset by Mark’s tumbling piano cascades that make the keys of that instrument sound more like a slow and steady
waterfall, as you imagine yourself on a leisurely stroll along the Copacabana coastline, with Café’s delicately tapped bongos
echoing each of your sand-filled footsteps, and Ricky’s drum kit and hi-hat providing a perfect counterpoint to this delightful
tropical sojourn.

It’s followed by an equally charming piece by Roberto and Erasmo Carlos, "Seu Corpo" (Your Body), which
originally came with some evocatively sensual lyrics, and is even more laidback than the Lins number, as Mann’s flute
predominates here by virtue of its hypnotic vibrancy.

The temperature is raised a few degrees with the rhythmically propelled
samba and choro workings of "Pão e
Poesia" (Bread and Poetry) by Moraes Moreira and Fausto Nilo. The flute takes off on its own wave of celebratory sound, and
gives the listener the impression of being an active participant in a Rio Carnaval parade, while giving equal time to the piano
as it voices its lines in a flowing and expansive variation on the main idea.

Mann’s own gorgeous piece, "Yesterday’s Kisses", brings us back to
bossa territory, the prevailing mood being that
of a warm and humid summer night, of wiping away the perspiration from your lover’s sweaty brow. The work is
enlivened throughout by the bass’s mewling love call, answered in turn by both piano and flute, purring playfully in languorous
obeisance to it.

Milton Nascimento’s classic "Anima" is given an unusual treatment by Mann and Venezuelan pianist Eduardo
Simon, who pull the main melody around in deliberate stop-and-go fashion, very different from the version recorded in 1991
by clarinetist Richard Stoltzman on his equally memorable
Brasil for RCA Victor. At almost a full nine minutes, "Anima"
is the longest number on the album, and perforce it takes the time to make its poetic presence felt. The original song’s
lyrics about the soul reaching out in search for something beyond this mortal and temporal existence sympathetically reflects
Mann’s own long-range career pursuits, and can stand as his personal life statement.

The final two tracks, "Choro das Águas" (Cry of the Waters) by Lins and his frequent collaborator Victor Martins,
and "Doa a Quem Doer" (No Matter Who It Hurts), also by Lins, wrap up the proceedings nicely.

Guitar and piano start the forward propulsion in "Choro," as the flute enters in ever-so-hesitating a manner, then
pulls back with several long-limbed phrases. One can fully appreciate the marvelous atmosphere of the recording venue,
made in the famous RCA Studio A in New York City—you can even hear Mann dexterously fingering his favored instrument,
captured for posterity by the minimalist miking techniques.

Romero’s rock-steady guitar strumming returns, as playful as ever, but this time dragging itself into momentary fits
and starts, hemming and hawing as it goes, while the flute slowly emerges, pleading for obvious forgiveness for some past
fault. The guitar eventually defers to it for the long-held final word, which becomes a literal sigh of breathless anticipation of
some imaginary future assignation.

The closing number, "Doa," adds one last
samba note to the celebration, as we’re taken back to the Carnaval street
parade and its colorful cacophony of sounds and rhythms, a fitting formal conclusion to our Brazilian exploration.

I listened to this splendid album in tribute to the principal artist, Herbie Mann, who was without a doubt the main
man of World Music. He has, indeed, found the proverbial road back to his heavenly home, but here on
terra firma—and especially on this particular recording—Mann was truly at ease with Brazilian music, Brazilian artists, and his "adopted"
homeland Brazil, one he often returned to in his wayward wanderings; and
Caminho de Casa, or The Road Home, is no better
testament to his musical memory.

Joe Lopes, an American citizen born in Brazil, was raised and educated in New York City, where he worked for
many years in the financial sector. In 1996, he moved to Brazil with his Brazilian wife and two daughters. He returned to the
U.S. in January 2001, and now resides in North Carolina with his family. He is a passionate lover of all types of music,
including jazz and opera. You can email your comments to
JosmarLopes@msn.com

Copyright © 2003

 

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