Moacir Santos is a musician’s legend in Brazil, a composer and musician with more than 60 years as a working musician. But he hadn’t been around for a long time; he’d been living in California for yonks, trying to work in the film industry. A few years ago, Mario Adnet and Zé Nogueira decided to rediscover Santos, and assembled an all-star group in Brazil to cover his beautiful compositions. The double-disc set came out in Brazil in 2001, and became a huge hit over there. So when Ouro Negro showed up here last year, it started a cult. Sure, it was a tiny cult—not a lot of Americans out there interested in intricate and orchestrated Brazilian jazz—but it’s a passionate one.
This new album follows the same outlines as that one, but focuses on Santos’ earlier work, dating back to even the 1940s. The thing is, it doesn’t sound like it. Many of these compositions don’t sound any older than a lot of the other things I’ve heard this year, and they are all vital and fun and sparkly and wonderful. It’s one of the best jazz records I’ve heard this year.
A lot of the credit for this has to go to Adnet and Nogueira, who treat these charts—many of which had to be reconstructed from original recordings—as living things instead of museum treasures. They’ve assembled a great crowd of folks for this project; not the Gilberto Gils and Milton Nascimentos of Ouro Negro, but stunning musicians nonetheless. Jurim Moreira’s drum work is precise and smooth throughout, unifying the proceedings so that 1988’s “Paraiso” sounds a lot like 1946’s “Vaidoso”. The interplay between Marcos Nimrichter’s accordion and Teco Cardoso’s baritone sax on “Saudade de Jacques” is sexy and mysterious. And there’s a trumpet solo on “Rota?” by an American trumpet player from New Orleans named Wynton Marsalis, who seems to have a bright future ahead of himself.
But it is really the compositions that make this thing fly. “Excerto No. 1” is lovely legato work that sounds like Charles Mingus’ orchestral charts. “De Bahia de Ceara” is straight-up adorable samba-nova, lots of tonal warmth and breathing space for all the musicians to shine. Things get funky on the 5/4 “Os Lemurianos”, Afro-jazzish on “Carrossel”, and go all Monk-lullabye-esque on “Felipe”, the only song here with lyrics, slung by Santos and a little dude named Cezar Adnet Bava. (I could actually do away with the studied amateurish of the kidsinging on the chorus here, but whatever.) It’s a history lesson in Brazilian jazz, but a painless and extremely enjoyable one.
Moacir Santos has two great friends in Adnet and Nogueira. I hope they do a million more albums together, because they’ll all be brilliant and beautiful.