The Brazilian Thing

I suppose that I should write about my "unique" approach to composition and performance, but the truth is that my music is influenced by many great musicians and composers. All of these are filtered through my experiences and techniques, in the works that I create.  During the past 15 years, I have been drawn to Brazilian music for its expressiveness and creativity.

In terms of performers, it is difficult for me to imagine a more exciting, risk-taking singer than Brazilian artist Elis Regina. She is known to every Brazilian, but only a small number of music listeners in the U.S.

Elis Regina

Elis Regina

She excelled in her interpretations of MPB (Brazilian popular music), and also approached Bossa Nova with a distinctive full voice.  Sadly, she did not live a long life. Here are a couple of my favorite songs:

Upa Neguinho by Edu Lobo - The ginga or groove of this is exceptional.

O Bêbado e a Equilibrista (The Drunk and the Tightrope Walker)

This little samba is a disguised political commentary (composed by Joao Bosco) about the future of Brasil, written during the military dictatorship (1964-1985) when many artists had to flee the country. The circus theme reflects the state of politics. Although it loses a bit in the translation, it seems particularly relevant during these times today. The emotion, drawn out phrasing and direction of the musical line by Elis Regina, are astounding.

Evening fell like a bridge
A drunk wearing a funeral suit reminded me of Chaplin’s tramp
The moon, like a brothel madam
begged from each cold star a rented shine

And clouds, up there in the blotting paper of the sky
sucked on tortured stains, what crazy agony
The drunk wearing a bowler hat was being irreverent
for Brazil’s night, my Brazil
is dreaming of the return of Henfil’s brother
of so many people who left on the tail of a rocket

Our gentle mother country is crying
Marias and Clarices are crying on Brazil’s soil
But I know that pain this sharp won’t be in vain
Hope dances on the tightrope with an umbrella
And with each step on this rope you can hurt yourself
Bad luck, the balancing hope
knows that each artist’s show
must go on

Hermeto Pascoal

Hermeto Pascoal

Another great influence is Hermeto Pascoal, a composer, multi-instrumentalist, experimentalist and musical iconoclast. Todo e Som (all is sound) is one of his approaches to music. An impressive accordionist (sanfona in Portuguese), guitarist, pianist, flutist, percussionist and more, Hermeto also explores the sounds of cooking utensils, scrap metal, tables, lakes, dentist drills and practically anything that he can get his hands on. He is a prolific composer with over 75 recordings of his own work. During 1996-97, he created a new music composition every day as his project Calendario do som (sound calendar). His seemingly effortless synthesis of unique Northeastern Brazilian music styles like forro, frevo, baiao, samba with jazz and sound art, makes him a cultural treasure of Brasil. Miles Davis remarked that Hermeto is "one of the most important musicians on the planet."

There are so many other great Brazilian contemporary performers and composers that I admire including Tom Jobim, Edu Lobo, Clara Nunes, Antonio Adolfo, Mauricio Einhorn, Baden Powell, Emilio Santiago, Ivan Lins, Milton Nascimento, Jovino Santos Neto, Luiz Eca, Raul de Souza, Joao Donato, Chico Buarke, etc. Then you have the early greats like Heitor Villa-Lobos, Pixinguinha, Ernesto Nazareth, Luiz Gonzaga, Noel Rosa, Ary Barroso and more. I am so very fortunate to have presented and performed with Antonio Adolfo, Jovino Santos Neto, Diego Figueiredo, Haroldo Mauro, Jr. and Carlinhos Pandeiro de Ouro. It's a joy to work with this wonderful music!

Here is Hermeto creating a composition based on his "Som da Aura" concept.