Sometimes two musicians mesh with such stunning results that listeners feel the artists have been relating to each other musically since childhood. This is exactly the case with Duduka da Fonseca and Helio Alves, two outstanding Brazilian talents who have earned the admiration of the public, the press, and their peers.
The high degree of musical artistry and love that is always present in their work together is the result not only of their long friendship, but also of a mutual admiration for each other as artists, a respect that has come about by virtue of performing and recording together for over a decade.
Their new CD, Songs from the Last Century, is a delight throughout: fiercely played, intensely felt, daringly conceived.
Duduka and Alves usually display their skills as members of a rhythm section, or in collective groups such as Trio da Paz. This disc, however, gives them a rare opportunity to function as leaders and finds them in the company of musicians with whom they are remarkably conversant.
Rather than monopolizing the session, pulling rank as far as solo space is concerned, they have done an inspired job of blending performers and material. Their selection of supporting musicians – Eddie Gomez, bass; Phil Woods, alto saxophone; Maucha Adnet, vocals; Paulo Jobim vocals and acoustic guitar; with string arrangements by Oscar Castro-Neves – could hardly be bettered.
This finely-integrated ensemble empathizes with every mood into which they dip, interpreting each piece, rather than merely using it as an excuse for casual blowing. The richly varied program touches all their favorite musical bases without overbalancing. This is an impressive collection that includes tunes by Egberto Gismonti, Hermeto Pascoal, Toninho Horta, Jaco Pastorius, and Bill Evans.
Their version of "Three Views of a Secret," the jazz waltz by Jaco Pastorius, is played as a samba in 2/4 and features an impassioned solo by Woods and a string arrangement by Oscar Castro-Neves that embraces the quartet like a soft cocoon or luxuriant pillow.
The jazz waltz "Bluesette" is played as an up-tempo samba by the trio (Gomez, Alves, Duduka) and finds them engaged in inspired melodic and rhythmic interplay. Never routine, Duduka is a master of propulsive playing, his work with brushes superb. Alves paces him with amazing exactitude, trading phrases, feeding him ideas, moods, and alternatives, while also reacting to his every nuance.
On "Sabiá," a classic bossa nova by Chico Buarque and Tom Jobim, the string quartet blends effortlessly with singers Maucha Adnet and Paulo Jobim, giving the same gravitas as a full string section. Woods relishes the group interaction and projects his enthusiasm into his solo.
The momentum of Hermeto Pascoal’s baião "Bebê" finds Alves crammed full of ideas. The way he and Duduka interlock is nothing short of brilliant. These two complementary musical personalities share a razor-sharp sense of timing and perform with fire and sinew. Each is inventive, enhancing the other with unparalleled shows of unity. There is a palpable delight in discovery going on here, shared by all three musicians.
As if in a dream, the opening melody of "Meu Canário Vizinho Azul," played loosely as a slow bossa, is delicately floated in by Gomez and enhanced by the transparency of a Castro-Neves arrangement for string quartet.
Then the trio cooks up a sizzling version of Jerome Kern’s "Yesterdays" that alternates Afro-samba and straight ahead grooves. Alves, insuring that no track is without a constant tissue of interest from the keyboard, solos with masterful choruses and Petersonesque flurries. Duduka’s intensity and layered polyrhythms make Alves seem almost serene by contrast.
"Beijo Partido" (Broken Kiss), a samba canção by Toninho Horta, achieves telepathic elegance as Gomez solos briefly, producing a singing tone rich in high frequencies and perfectly simpatico with Duduka, who, finessing the subtle rhythmic texture, adds nuance and color though his expert brush and stick work.
An aggressive explosion of pianistic ideas rudely pushes the listener into a sense of the totally unpredictable on Egberto Gismonti’s "Frevo." Gomez solos with saxophone-like fluidity, his ideas a model of adventurous, personal projection and group awareness.
Duduka’s mixture of off-center rhythmical shifts and oblique snare accents add drama (incidentally Duduka and Gomez recorded a fine version of this same tune with Joanne Brackeen). The trio’s dialogue here is extraordinary, the depth of interpretation always surprising, no matter how many times you listen to this track.
The string quartet’s tone colors and voicings achieve a gorgeous blend on "These Foolish Things." Played bossa nova, the tune is given its distinctive flavor by Paulo Jobim’s almost uninflected singing and by the insight Maucha Adnet brings to a lyric, the wholesome sexuality she projects, and her refusal to take gratuitous liberties.
"Very Early," the jazz waltz by Bill Evans, is dominated by the huge tone and measured dexterity of Eddie Gomez, who developed as an individual voice in the Bill Evans trio. Played samba style, it features riveting solos from both Alves and Gomez.
Combining excellent renditions of familiar pieces with the magnetism of artists who are able to create, on the spot, any mood they choose, leaves small wonder why Songs from the Last Century is a tribute not only to the talent of versatile musicians who are deeply attuned to each other, but also to their chosen repertoire.
This is a musical encounter between artists who display an exquisite alertness to each other’s ideas and in which electrifying moments of mutual sensitivity and anticipation abound. The ten selections, all thoroughly imbued with feeling and respectfully performed, are worthwhile documents of a fertile period and will continue to live on because of recordings like this one.
Journalist, musician, and educator Bruce Gilman has served as music editor of Brazzil magazine, an online international publication based in Los Angeles, for more than a decade. During that time he has written scores of articles on the most influential Brazilian artists and genres, program notes for festivals in the United States and abroad, numerous CD liner notes, and an essay, "The Politics of Samba," that appeared in the Georgetown Journal.
He is the recipient of three government grants that allowed him to research traditional music in China, India, and Brazil. His articles on Brazilian music have been translated and published in Dutch, German, Portuguese, Serbian, and Spanish. You can reach him through his e-mail: email@example.com.