Double the Fun!
With a recording career that started in the early 70’s, it is no surprise that Azymuth has maintained a privileged position in the Brazilian jazz fusion scene. The creator of the “Samba Doido” (crazy samba), Azymuth has performed with international stars, such as Flora Purim and Mark Murphy, and Brazilian icons, such as João Nogueira. From Brazilian soap opera hits in the 70’s to the current craze in England’s dance floors, Azymuth continues to be fresh, strong and innovative. José Roberto Bertrami (keyboards, vocals), Alex Malheiros (bass, guitar, vocals) and Ivan “Mamão” Conti (drums, percussion, vocals) bring together a sound that is probably best classified as their own. As a group they have released twenty-five albums (only two with a slight formation change), and they have also found time to record with other artists and pursue solo careers as well.
Following its 2000 release, Before We Forget, Azymuth has a new album in stores. For the first time on CD, Cascades (1982) is released in digital format. Completing this highly anticipated release, Rapid Transit (1983) makes up the remaining of this 2-in-1 package. If you have never heard the Samba Doido sound, you are in for a special treat. Besides that intrinsic Brazilian sound, what makes Azymuth so special is the group’s ability to showcase special guests who blend in perfectly with the Samba Doido sound. The choice of material is impeccable as always and the right mixture of upbeat tunes and soft ballads is just right for every mood.
“Club Morocco (Marrocos Clube),” Cascade‘s first track, is typical Azymuth with the trio’s vibrant solos. Interspersed with Bertrami’s dazzling keyboard, you find Conti’s multilayered percussion and drums and Malheiros steady bass providing much of the basis for this track. In a swift change of pace, “Cascade of the Seven Waterfalls (Salto das Sete Quedas)” transports you to the mysterious submerged world of Brazil’s waterfall sacrificed in the name of progress. The arrangement has a fantastic swing reminiscent of the great work of Cesar Camargo Mariano, one of Brazil’s top arrangers and keyboardists. Next, Conti’s own “Through the Window (Entrando pela Janela)” introduces two guests: Bigorna on the flute and Cidinho on percussion. Bigorna’s solo is fiery and crisp, whereas Cidinho’s percussion is sharp and playful rendering a wonderful airy feeling that serves as the perfect introduction for the next tune, “Remembering Milton (Lembrando Milton).” The original trio shines in that tribute to Milton Nascimento. Though all three members share the spotlight throughout this tune, Malheiros’s bass and Bertrami’s keyboard are definitely surpassed by Conti’s extraordinary percussion work. Echoes of Nascimento’s music can be heard from beginning to end, but it is the Azymuth treatment that delivers a powerhouse show. When Carlinhos da Mocidade joins the group in “Festa Nativa (Native Party),” percussion is the name of the game. This is one of those moments when what is good becomes better. With the added guest, the group now overflows with rhythmic drums, bells and whatever else you can imagine at a native party. By the end of this five-minute-plus ecstasy, you are ready to surrender to Maurício Einhorn’s harmonica solo in “A Woman (Uma Mulher).” Having played the harmonica since he was 5 years old, Einhorn is well known and admired among musicians and fans alike. He wrote music with Johnny Alf, Eumir Deodato, Durval Ferreira and other Bossa Nova icons. In “A Woman,” Einhorn is a consummate instrumentalist and the sole force of sensuality behind Bertrami’s music. Closing Cascades, we have the playful and spicy “Indian Pepper (Pimenta Malagueta).”
Switching gears to the next album in this release, Rapid Transit opens with “Make Mine Guaraná (Só Bebo Guaraná, Mas),” a funky tune similar to Azymuth’s “Tamborim, Cuíca, Ganzá, Berimbau,” from their second album Águia Não Come Mosca (1977). The most noticeable difference here is the slower and more cadenced tempo thanks to guest percussionist Cidinho. Delving into the Brazilian soul, Malheiros bass opens Milton Nascimento’s “Tarde (Afternoon).” Having recorded this tune before in 1977, Azymuth recreated this Nascimento classic for this album. The melody grows slowly as if it were the sun itself preparing for a majestic setting in the distant horizon. After Malheiros comes back with an astonishing bass solo, Bertrami and Conti share the limelight. The cuíca cries tears of joy as this soft ballad climaxes towards the overwhelming end. Keeping up the high feeling from that track, Azymuth then pays tribute to Dotô, a favorite guest with the trio, in the intense and percussive “Missing Dotô (Saudades do Dotô).” The same “saudade” feeling is extended to “Somewhere in Brazil (Em Algum Lugar do Brasil),” another soft Malheiros ballad punctuated with impressionistic colors. In closing the album, the fast-paced “Montreux” is like an adrenalin rush leading into the soothing calm waters of “Gate of Time (Portal do Tempo),” an all acoustic trio performance.
Milestone MCD-47088-2 (2001)
#1-7 originally released as Cascades (1982); #8-14 originally released as Rapid Transit (1983).
- Club Morocco (Marrocos Clube) (José Roberto Bertrami – Alex Malheiros)
- Cascade of the Seven Waterfalls (Salto das Sete Quedas) (Alex Malheiros)
- Through the Window (Entrando pela Janela) (Ivan Conti)
- Remembering Milton (Lembrando Milton) (José Roberto Bertrami)
- Festa Nativa (José Roberto Bertrami)
- A Woman (Uma Mulher) (José Roberto Bertrami)
- Indian Pepper (Pimenta Malagueta) (José Roberto Bertrami – Alex Malheiros)
- Make Mine Guaraná (Só Bebo Guaraná, Mas) (José Roberto Bertrami)
- Afternoon (Tarde) (Milton Nascimento – Fernando Brant)
- Missing Dotô (Saudades do Dotô) (Ivan Conti)
- Somewhere in Brazil (Em Algum Lugar do Brasil) (Alex Malheiros)
- I’m Just Looking Around (Ivan Conti)
- Montreux (José Roberto Bertrami)
- Gate of Time (Portal do Tempo) (Alex Malheiros)
This review first appeared in JazzBuffalo in May 2001.