A Trip to Brazil
A native of Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania, USA), Dr. Jeffrey Kunkel is the coordinator of jazz studies at Montclair State University (New Jersey). His teaching portfolio includes classes in jazz history, theory, improvisation and pedagogy. The winner of the 2008 New Jersey Jazz Education Achievement Award for excellence in the field of jazz education, Jeff received his bachelor’s and doctor of education degrees from Penn State (1982 and 1995, respectively), where he currently serves as the Penn State School of Music’s representative on the College of Arts and Architecture Alumni Society Board. He is also the holder of a Master of Music degree in Jazz Studies from the New England Conservatory of Music.
As traditional as it is in higher educational institutions, Jeff had an academic sabbatical in 2007. Growing up listening to Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66 as well as Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Jeff couldn’t escape the allure of “the laid-back Brazilian groove,” as he puts it. So, he decided to take his sabbatical in Brazil, visiting the cities of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Salvador and Curitiba. That first trip to Brazil led him to meet several musicians, including Haroldo Mauro, Jr. (his 2005 CD Bossa na Pressão has been featured here in MB). Haroldo, an accomplished jazz pianist, drummer and composer, is featured in Meu Coração Brasileiro playing the drums and co-producing this captivating release with Jeff Kunkel. Besides Jeff (piano) and Mauro (drums), other band members include Vika Barcellos (vocals), Alex Rocha (bass), José Arimatéa (trumpet), Mariana Bernardes (vocals), and Fernando Corona (background vocals). Special guest Mauro Senise, whom Jeff met on a second trip to Brazil in 2009, guest stars on flute and saxophone in eight of the eleven tracks of the album.
Although the album is mostly instrumental, there are two songs featuring the Portuguese lyrics of Brazilian couple Vika Barcellos and Fernando Corona, and two others featuring the English lyrics of one of Jeff’s American colleagues, Holli Ross. The passion for Brazil is captured so well in the title track, “Meu Coração Brasileiro,” written by Fernando Corona and Vika Barcellos. The opening verses take us back to the attraction Jeff never forgot from his childhood days:
Marcou pra sempre o meu coração
Em cada nota que eu tocar, o Brasil
É pura e infinita inspiração
Forever marked my heart
With each note I play, Brazil
Is pure and infinite inspiration
It is no wonder to find the liner notes of this album with praising words from Mario Adnet. Mario stresses that the academic “Dr. Kunkel” sets aside his scholarly background and “presents with expertise, the tenderness of his Brazilian feelings.” We hear that tenderness in the opening track, “Bossa para Mãe e Pai.” A beautiful resemblance of this melody and arrangement with Mario Adnet’s own music is inevitable to my ears. Jeff’s music is serene and evocative whether he is reminiscing about his parents in the opening track or in “Praia do Leblon de Manhã,” for example. Mauro Senise‘s flute and saxophone solos throughout the album are an added bonus to this fine release. They augment that very “laid-back Brazilian groove” that first attracted Jeff. Another charming feature in these arrangements is that all instruments weigh in very uniformly in each melody. Even the vocalists, Vika and Mariana, add their soft singing to these tunes without any distractions or overpowering.
In closing the album, Jeff wrote “Bebop Brasileiro” and dedicated it to his friend Haroldo. The melody is a contrafact. If you’re not familiar with this jazz term, it is a new melody overlaid on a familiar harmonic structure. Samba and jazz blend in this great Brazilian bebop. A perfect end for an outstanding release!
You can see Jeff’s performances of some tracks of this album in his YouTube channel. Here’s “Bossa para Mãe e Pai.” The video showcases Jeff Kunkel (composer, piano), Leala Cyr (voice), Kevin Bene (alto flute), Alex Rocha (bass), and Haroldo Mauro Jr. (drums).
Meu Coração Brasileiro
Delira Música DL575 (2013)
Tracks (all music by Jeffrey Kunkel, except where noted):
- Bossa para Mãe e Pai
- Rodízio de Pizza
- Meu Coração Brasileiro (Jeffrey Kunkel – Fernando Corona – Vika Barcellos)
- No One Can Hurt Me Now (Jeffrey Kunkel – Holli Ross)
- Samba TribOz
- Praia do Leblon de Manhã
- What a View (Jeffrey Kunkel – Holli Ross)
- Saudade de Você (Jeffrey Kunkel – Fernando Corona – Vika Barcellos)
- Follow Your Heart
- Encanto de Itapoã
- Bebop Brasileiro