Publicity photo via Bandcamp

The Past and Present of Brazilian Jazz Meld on ‘Samba Jazz & Tom Jobim’

Percussionist Duduka Da Fonseca and pianist Helio Alves have a long history of collaborating on record and stage. Samba Jazz & Tom Jobim finds the two at the top of their game, both honoring and pushing Brazilian jazz in bold directions.

Samba Jazz & Tom Jobim
Dudaka Da Fonseca and Helio Alves
30 August 2019

The music of Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto represent a vital turning point in jazz, one centered in the lively and deeply cultural city centers of Brazil. The birth of bossa nova and samba paired the energy of Brazilian rhythms with the complexity of jazz harmony, a sound that has captivated discerning listening audiences for over 50 years. In paying homage to their jazz forefathers, drummer Duduka Da Fonseca and pianist Helio Alves dig deep to honor and reexamine the vitality of Brazilian jazz with Samba Jazz & Tom Jobim.

“Gemini Man” is an intense opener, rhythmically driving while still light and agile. The solo from Claudio Roditi, trumpet player and the tune’s composer, is a shining example of virtuosity that never resorts to bravado. With clean articulation and blistering speed, he commands the spotlight with grace. However, it’s Alves’ solo that really steals the number. His syncopated interplay with Da Fonseca demonstrates just how tight the two musicians are. The two dance along a razor’s edge of rhythm and space, and all the while Alves finds just the right notes to fill in between the gaps.

Romero Lubambo, guitarist and longtime Da Fonseca collaborator, takes a sultry solo on the mid-tempo affair “Alana”. Brazilian jazz is practically inseparable from the nylon string classical guitar, yet Lubambo’s electrified solo blends beautifully well within the Latin jazz vibe. It’s also a stellar example of one of jazz’s core principles: no matter how complex things get, never forget to sing. Saxophonist Billy Drewes follows up with a disjunct solo, undeniably striking yet never reaching the same heights as Lubambo’s improvisation.

Vocalist Maucha Adnet makes her debut on the record with Jobim’s “Pato Preto”, effusing a sensual aura with her sinewy melodies and Portuguese dialect. Adnet represents the closest link to Jobim. She was a member of his group, Banda Nova, for a decade, and her years collaborating with the legend imbue her delivery with maturity and deep love for the sound.

Bassist Hans Glawischnig shines on”Pedra Bonita Da Gavea”, taking a solo that finds the perfect balance between frenzied runs and tasteful pauses. As a whole, it’s one of the most reserved tracks on the record, but it’s not a low point by any means. Da Fonseca tones down his dynamic intensity and lays back a bit, allowing the rest of the group to drive the tune. It’s a tasteful choice that emphasizes how colorful and engaging small jazz combos can be.

Jobim’s “Você Vai Ver” saunters with a classic bossa nova vibe, highlighted by Adnet’s gentle tone and Lubambo’s swaying rhythms. It’s perhaps the most traditional-sounding song throughout Samba Jazz & Tom Jobim, but the honor and love each musician brings to the ensemble makes it sound special. As much as Brazilian jazz as evolved since the early days of Jobim and Gilberto, there’s still so much to be said about skillfully honoring the history of bossa nova and samba. By the time the album rounds out with “A Vontande Mesmo” (featuring a blistering solo from guest Wynton Marsalis), the party vibe kicks up once again, a soaring take on the life and energy inherent in Brazilian jazz.

Samba Jazz & Tom Jobim is a labor of love from Alves and Da Fonseca. Their longtime relationship, developed through countless gigs and extended collaborations, fostered an undeniably deep and loving relationship with their musical forefathers. It’s a record 25 years in the making–let’s hope it’s not that long before their next one.

RATING 8 / 10