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Duduka Da Fonseca: Brazilian Beauty Re-dressed

Duduka da FonsecaStylistically, Duduka Da Fonseca has always been his own man, an exceptionally versatile and melodic drummer who graces every recording he plays on. Best known for his work with Trio da Paz and as a sideman with, among others, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Lee Konitz, Jacques Morelenbaum, and John Scofield, Fonseca stays close to music’s front-runners, occasionally striking out on his own as a leader.

In one such recent excursion, exploiting his usual ear for nuance, he handpicked an exuberant quintet of young musicians to record Samba Jazz in Black & White, a superlative follow-up to his 2002 Grammy-nominated Samba Jazz Fantasia.

In its own unassuming way, Samba Jazz in Black & White is a definitive example of how the jazz spirit informs the creative music of other cultures. The repertoire ranges from the lyrical to the outward-bound; virtually all of it is strikingly memorable.

That Fonseca is a fine leader, and not just a gifted sideman can be ascertained from the diligence that has gone into shaping this latest recording. Says Fonseca, “It’s the product of several years work trying to develop a theme so that the album would flow like chapters in a book.”

This continuity runs through every aspect of the CD, including the cohesion of a quintet, which allows a thought or a feeling to be passed from instrument to instrument when it comes to solo time.

Fiery and forward-looking, Fonseca has always combined high levels of professionalism and technical competence with unfailing good taste, and having supplied the concept, pursues his policy of storytelling and shapes this unusually resourceful band in a manner that continually offsets the soloists in the most provocative light.

From the opener, “Mestre Bimba,” a perfectly-paced mix of samba, afoxé, and marcha, featuring wordless vocals by Maucha Adnet and Alana Da Fonseca, to the darkly insistent finale, “Dry Land,” charging headlong into solos like a speedboat in choppy seas, each composition is fully fleshed out with a combination of exuberance and ease that is as natural an expression of the Brazilian psyche as soccer.

Showing effortless fluency and thematic guile, “Janeiro,” with Fonseca and his rhythm section partner, Leonardo Cioglia, pushing the soloists to their apparent limits and then some, reveals blistering commitment. “Leonardo has a great feel and great timing; he’s very relaxed,” says Fonseca. “I can really explore polyrhythms when I’m playing alongside someone so able.”

Throughout Roberto Menescal and Chico Buarque’s hit “Bye Bye Brasil,” Duduka’s delicate brush work is cohesive and resourceful while the hushed intensity of Claudio Roditi’s trumpet balances formidable economy with fervent expression.

“The original meter is a fast double time,” says Duduka, “but I like the idea of playing it as a jazz ballad in 4/4, simulating the sound of Miles Davis on ‘Blue in Green’ off the album Kind of Blue.” Augmented by excellent guitar guest soloist Vic Juris, Toninho Horta’s rhythmically compelling “Viver de Amor” is a continual onslaught of inspired creation.

But what makes the disc particularly head-turning is the inclusion of two masterpieces: Hermeto Pascoal’s “Chorinho pra Ele,” spotlighting Anat Cohen’s technically impeccable clarinet, and, equally rich in dialogue, her pure-toned and plangent soprano sax on Egberto Gismonti’s hieratic “Palhaço.”

Like many young horn players who have studied at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Cohen is an articulate player who can express with clarity exactly what she is trying to achieve on any given piece of music. Cohen concentrates on the tenor as her main solo horn, and while that may seem like closing down options, it focuses her personality.

It also allows her to use her other horns effectively as arranged support, with the clarinet particularly colorful in this role. Capable of both the simplest and most complex improvisational approaches, she rarely comes across as a dry, scale-running post-Coltrane clone, but expresses something about her own personality with each solo.

Her tone on the tenor has a great deal of warmth and plasticity, while her rhythm, inhabiting a territory somewhere between Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter, seems unruffled at any tempo.

Cohen takes a relaxed approach to Jobim’s “O Grande Amor,” then Alves solos with sensitive, affectionate phrasing while Fonseca’s coloristic dexterity and pinprick cymbal attacks, as well as the dancing pulse he threads through the music with a master’s deftness of touch, lower the emotional temperature only by degrees so that the exhilaration of the next piece sounds distinctly threatening.

Apart from its intriguing voicings and the loose harmonic movement, articulation on “Sambetinho” is crisp, the general approach, rhythmically alert. Alves’s solo, starting with clear melodic expressiveness then turning more and more into lines of dissonance to exaggerate the contrast, is consistently excellent.

Each Guilherme Monteiro solo, in general, has a life of its own, but here his tone is at its most expressive. Says Fonseca, “I love the sound of Guilherme Monteiro’s guitar. Like Helio, he really gets the bebop phrasing, and that’s exactly what I need to mix with the samba roots.” The tune, closing with quick-fire exchanges of eight, then four bars among soloists and Fonseca, is superbly authoritative.

Rarely are there recordings where soloist and group all connect with such unerring intuition, with a sense of playfulness, where the music, like spicy gossip being shared between friends, is treated so naturally. The color, the vitality, the sense of creative give-and-take between the players, their imagination and empathy in investigating unusual angles in mutually enhancing ways, let alone their consistently inspired solo work, shift this recording onto the plane of excellence.

For a drummer, albeit one with an unusually broad musical vision, who has been the consistent supporter of other people’s causes, this latest foray as a leader neatly encapsulates the inner feeling, assertiveness, and bravado that have marked Duduka Da Fonseca’s career.

Pulsing with vividness and roughhewn vitality, Samba Jazz in Black & White brings a distinctive cultural color to the basic jazz vein. Each track is an absorbing listening experience. If you already have these pieces, don’t be deterred from adding this revelatory disc to your collection and enjoying familiar beauty in new clothing.

Selected Discography:

Artist(s) – Title – Label – Date

Duduka Da Fonseca – Samba Jazz in Black & White – Zoho – 2006

Trio da Paz – Somewhere – Blue Toucan – 2005

Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo  (OSESP) – Jobim Sinfônico – Biscoito Fino – 2003

Duduka Da Fonseca – Samba Jazz Fantasia – Malandro – 2002

Nilson Matta & Hendrik Meurkens – Encontros – Malandro – 2000

Helio Alves – Trios – Reservoir – 1998

Trio da Paz – Partido Out – Malandro – 1998

Claudio Roditi – Double Standards – Reservoir -1997

Tom Harrel – The Art of Rhythm – RCA – 1997

John Scofield – Quiet – Verve – 1996

Phil Woods – Astor & Elis – Chesky -1996

Lee Konitz  & The Brazilian Band – Brazilian Serenate – Venus – 1995

Lee Konitz  – Brazilian Rhapsody – Venus – 1995

Herbie Mann –  America Brasil – Lightyear -1995

Herbie Mann  – 65th Birthday Celebration – Lightyear – 1995

Claudio Roditi – Samba Manhattan Style – Reservoir – 1995

Trio da Paz – Black Orpheus – Kokopelli -1994

Antonio Carlos Jobim – Antônio Brasileiro – Columbia – 1994

JoAnne Brackeen – Take a Chance – Concord – 1993

Gerry Mulligan – Paraiso – Telarc – 1993

Trio da Paz – Brasil from the Inside – Concord  – 1992

JoAnne Brackeen – Breath of Brazil  – Concord – 1991

Herbie Mann – Jasil Brazz – RBI – 1987

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: cuica@interworld.net.

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