Brazil’s Songs of Innocence and Experience

Antologia da Canção Brasileira by Freire and BocatoSweet tooth, prepare for action. Without a lapse, Antologia da Canção Brasileira has a temperament, a warmth, and a freshness of vision that makes it extraordinarily delicious.

Beyond a fabulous performance, the disc’s strength lies in the way its musicians – Léa Freire, bass flute; Bocato, trombone; Michel Freidenson, piano; Djalma Lima, guitar; Sizão Machado, bass; and Edu Ribeiro, drums – enlarge and refine the scope of a sophisticated and elegant repertoire, like phenomenal jugglers who make you aware of an ever-widening pattern of glittering clubs and balls.

These are musicians with a powerful urge to communicate. And communicate they do, drawing on their enormous technical, emotional, and intellectual resources to turn out a wonderfully rich performance that sustains a sensuous, gentle beauty.

Inspired by John Coltrane’s classic album Ballads, Freire and Bocato conceived an engrossing project, which serves as a valuable example of the care that goes into the making of a superior ballad set. It is also an idea of relevance never before explored by Brazilian musicians. The trombone-bass flute front line provides an opportunity to investigate unusual harmonic combinations.

Says, Freire, “The idea was to keep cool and exploit the millions of possibilities these songs offer in terms of chord changes and solos, especially with respect to a mood in which less is more.” The deftness with which the two of them weave and twine their lines, aided by the immaculately polished rhythm section with its ability to maintain variety, flow, and interest at these leisurely tempos, is truly phenomenal.

There are surely few players around who can plunge into the emotional intensity of Ary Barroso, glide over the glib figurations of Luiz Eça, dance with agility through a masterly transcription of Lupicínio Rodrigues, and delve into the surprising rhythmic intricacies of Nelson Cavaquinho.

Crying out the opening of Jobim’s samba canção “Andorinha,” Bocato’s trombone brings to mind images of nighttime, gafieira dancing and couples romantically embracing. Flute and trombone alternate the melody before Machado solos on contrabass. His natural flair for shapely improvisation is matched by Bocato’s clean-lined solo, moving with a rich legato ease.

One hears the luminescent colors and subtly washed lines of composers like Scriabin and Debussy on this tune, which was recorded by Jobim on his album Stone Flower for the CTI label in 1970.

Sensitive piano chords introduce Ary Barroso’s samba canção “Folha Morta,” whose lyrics (“I know people talk and make fun of me. Oh God, how unhappy I am!”) suggest a somber ambience. Superbly restrained, the melody is played on bass flute before Bocato solos with plasticity, expressiveness, and consummate beauty.

Drummer Edu Ribeiro is perfect, discreetly feeding the other musicians with tasteful brush work. Differential tones float out from a unison doubling of the melody by bass flute and trombone on Luis Eça’s bossa/ballad “Imagens” before Freire solos with a combination of lyrical melancholy and simple eloquence that conveys her acute ear for line, contrast, and chiaroscuro.

The sextet’s colors and dynamics are stunning throughout “Blue Note” by Fátima Guedes and Filó Machado, a blues-tinged ballad whose lyrics talk about a musician and the emotions of improvisation. The ensemble relationship is always coherent, but here pianist Michel Freidenson, whose natural warmth and expressivity stand out, is the impressive soloist.

Bocato’s ability to target the parts of a tune that will give the most dramatic reworking of its essence is starkly etched in his arrangement of Cartola’s “As Rosas não Falam.” Although fairly brief, this unique soundscape for bass flute solo and five overdubbed trombones is a gem of lucidity and compression.

Played with translucent poetry, Nelson Cavaquinho’s samba “Luz Negra” comes across like an old friend in unfamiliar company. Bocato’s velvety tone and wistful, oddly-phrased, essentially lyrical style is the main weapon here. Also distinguished is the playing of guitarist Djalma Lima, a virtuoso with fundamental jazz values whose instrumental voice is so developed and clear that his eloquence is often mesmerizing.

One of the most beautiful musical conversations takes place between guitar and bass flute on “Nunca” by Lupicínio Rodrigues, a must on any compilation of contemplative Brazilian music. Freire’s playing is irresistibly seductive, but the climax of the CD comes with her resourceful and sound-conscious arrangement for a tune whose lyrics talk about the uncertainty of love, “Nossos Momentos.”

Both Bocato and Freire add inimitable magic with very cleanly-phrased and visceral solos. Their rapport is stunning, divulging an effortless cohesion between two doyens of their instruments.

In his introduction to “Neste Mesmo Lugar,” Bocato aims for simplicity and obliquity. Displaying a most attractive tone, he aims straight for the melodic core while Edu Ribeiro shapes this samba canção, continually offsetting Bocato in the most provocative light.

Trombone and piano alternate solos on “Boa Noite Amor,” a tune performed often by Elis Regina and the only waltz on this volume. Freidenson’s piano solo, combining genuine empathy with lithe elegance, is a marvel of technical finish and poetic allure.

Listening to classics of Brazilian song, clothed in arrangements interweaving the erudite with the popular and played with the finest musical poise and commitment, one is wooed to surrender completely. This is utterly dedicated music-making: direct, expressive, and subtly shaded.

Instrumentally performed, but conveying a deep understanding of the lyrics’ human emotions (a universal language regardless of when or where a piece was written), Antologia da Canção Brasileira delivers a richly tuneful collection of romantic songs from history that makes love to the future.

Journalist, musician, and educator Bruce Gilman has served as music  editor of Brazzil magazine, an international monthly publication based  in Los Angeles, for close to 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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