Brazil’s Antonio Adolfo and Daughter Carol Celebrate Samba-Jazz

Ao Vivo by Brazilian Antonio Adolfo and Carol Saboya

Spiced with superb talents and an expanded palette of styles, Ao Vivo/Live is the first recording by composer, producer, arranger, and pianist Antonio Adolfo in the company of a gifted young vocalist, his daughter, Carol Saboya.

Showcasing their stunning rapport and a well-chosen collection of material, the disc emanates from two rehearsals and a live performance at the 2005 Festival Miami, and it reveals both an artistry and an interpretive depth that are completely fulfilling.

The disc’s thematic unity and lyrical rapture, highlighting a wide range of moods, pay tribute to bossa nova, samba jazz, and the artist with whom Adolfo recorded four albums and accompanied on two European tours (1968 and 1969), Elis Regina.

A wonderful balance exists between the compositions and their arrangements, which displays an appreciable vision linking past to present. And although it is a live date, never intended for issue, without retakes or studio surgery, the recorded quality is excellent.

Adolfo has always combined high levels of professionalism and technical competence with unfailing good taste. His achievements, which include launching Brazil’s first independent record label, Artezanal, are many and varied. His fascination with providing provocative frameworks for young musicians spurs him to seek out players with original ideas.

But the byword with Adolfo is always “taste,” and this is exemplified by his use of three massively skillful sidemen: Claudio Spiewak, acoustic and electric guitars; Gabriel Vivas, double bass; and Carlomagno Araya, drums.

Playing with inspiration and creativity, like trapeze artists, trusting and perfectly timed, these young lions provide exemplary support throughout and sense with accuracy the need to increase or decrease the tension. Matching the emotional intensity of Adolfo and Saboya, they have an extraordinary impact on these tracks.

With the opener, “Abertura,” an improvised solo exploiting the intervalic relationships of “Rhapsody in Blue,” “Aquarela do Brasil,” and “Garota de Ipanema,” Adolfo evinces his interest in reshaping themes and earlier compositions. This striking rethinking is so fluid that it is not just a case of genres coexisting – samba, bossa nova, and classically influenced jazz – but melding into a new musical language.

An assured technician, Adolfo delivers his special pianistic brew, a combination of the traditional and the revolutionary as the opener segues into “Você e Eu.” Spiewak, producing long and interesting lines with no loose ends, turns in a hard-driving solo while Vivas and Araya, a combustive team, provide a resounding mattress for the others to bounce their ideas on. Adolfo has clearly picked his cohorts carefully.

Saboya’s feeling for swing never lets us down on Tom Jobim’s “Fotografia.” Spiewak’s well-focused guitar clomping and Gabriel Vivas’s superbly rounded tone, accurate pitching, and seemingly effortless pizzicato mobility breath new life into the musical legacy established by Sylvia Telles in 1959 on her LP Amor de Gente Moça.

Weaving a magical spell in congenial surroundings, Saboya demonstrates her knack of bouncing the melody line off the rhythm section, while her father threads bright piano lines through the medley “Meu Limão, Meu Limoeiro”/ “De Onde Vem o Baião”/ “O Cantador,” his slashes of color a perfect foil for her compelling vocal style. Carlomagno Araya, an energetic and musical drummer, makes his drum kit sing and dance.

There is not a moment on “Bonita” when Adolfo is not supplying delightful instrumental commentary and subtle shading to Saboya’s winning ways with the lyric. Here Saboya is not conventionally beautiful, but fragile and oddly touching as she dialogues with her father, a conversation that verifies how accompanying singers like Elis Regina, Maria Bethânia, and Milton Nascimento has nurtured Adolfo’s uncanny sense of time.

The coup-de-grace is the Afro-samba “Canto de Ossanha” on which Saboya conjoins evocative sophistication with girlish delight in a beguiling style that sizzles with sensual as well as musical allure. Spiewak brings his wide knowledge and abilities to this tune with a terse solo of searing intensity.

The choros “Carinhoso”/ “Bambino” are endowed with improvisatory magic, a strength and grace and assurance that give Adolfo license to create all manner of harmonic and stylistic colorations, making plain a style that is distinguished less by flash than by exquisite touch and authentic lyricism.

On “Insensatez,” his rubato, subtle pedal effects, and absence of wasted motion combine in one moving, unique voice; Vivas, lithe and supple, builds a pizzicato solo (captured marvelously by the excellent engineering) that has the legato feeling of a saxophone line.

Adolfo self-avowedly pays Elis Regina his respects with the arrangement of “Wave” that he wrote for her. Saboya’s voice is light, her sense of rhythm remarkably supple, her diction clear. “Carol’s phrasing always brings Elis to mind,” says Adolfo. “She has the same rhythmic sense Elis had.” Saboya’s timing never falters, even in her scat exchanges with the audience, and she has the vocal equipment to soar through octaves with great accuracy.

Avoiding interpretative clichés and sustaining that intimacy between singer and audience, like a one-to-one monologue with no one else in the world but them, which is the essence of good vocalizing, Saboya delivers an a cappella version of Jobim’s “Passarim” before its blending into his bossa waltz “Chovendo na Roseira.”

There is a great deal of pleasure to be derived from listening closely to what the quartet is doing, for they create a spectacular rhythmic matrix: clean, light, and sweetly powerful, so buoyant as to seemingly float at times. This is genuinely a moving performance.

Saboya’s voice has a delicate warmth that invests her father’s “Sá Marina” with a strong sense of personal involvement. This toada recorded by, among others, Sergio Mendes, Stevie Wonder, Herb Alpert, and Ivete Sangalo (three times), suggests only a partial account of Antonio Adolfo’s talent.

There is nothing hackneyed about his harmonic syntax. His melody is catchy and hummable, his keyboard work, gliding from one phrase into the next with easy facility and telling stabs at relevant chords, is wide-ranging and always exquisitely tasteful.

Dorival Caymmi’s “Milagre” is full of vigor, the players themselves assertive, Adolfo laying down a constantly propulsive background and tracing out fast-moving single note lines without sacrificing either rhythmic momentum or textural densities. The CD ends with a magnificent reading of Edu Lobo and Capinam’s “Corrida de Jangada,” a mix of samba, bossa, and baião on which these super-alert musicians play with inspiration and creativity. The color, the vitality, the sense of innovative give-and-take-between the players are all you could wish for in this piece.

This highly accessible, thematically unified, and consistently pleasing program gives a comprehensive picture of five original talents who are equally at home in Brazilian and jazz-based music, rhythms, and forms.

By turns absorbing, exciting, and evocative, the 13 selections on Ao Vivo/Live attest to these musicians’ incredible ears and imagination. Unpretentious directness lifts this session above the excessively easy-going set it appears to be on first acquaintance. This is Brazilian jazz played with flair.

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:


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