Apr 15 2016

Mark Isbell: Encontro

A Meeting of Brazil with Jazz

EncontroIt’s hard to believe that it’s already seven years ago that saxophonist Mark Isbell released his Samba Copacabana. The album impressed with its high level of Rio-inspired music, recorded with local top players. A sunny atmosphere dominates the listening pleasure on that album.

For Encontro, Mark Isbell (1960, Santa Ana, California USA) decided to ensconce himself in the BRC Studios in São Paulo. Proverbial that means that the music should be a bit more direct; like in Rio = pleasure, São Paulo = business. It must be said, the music on Encontro sounds slightly jazzier. But it’s still dominated by this wonderful Brazilian flavor that Mark Isbell so much treasures. Of course the accompanying musicians have a big hand in that, too. The wonderful Conrado Paulino (1960, Buenos Aires, Argentina; in São Paulo since the start of the 1980s) is on the nylon string guitar and responsible for four of the arrangements. Pianist Debora Gurgel (São Paulo) took care of the other seven arrangements. Debora Gurgel is a familiar name in the São Paulo jazz scene. Both as pianist and as arranger. She also co-leads a quartet with her daughter Dani (DDG4). From that quartet the rhythm section completes the line-up for Encontro. Thiago Rabello is on drums and Sidiel Vieira on bass.

The repertoire of the album is chosen from music by (among others) Oscar Castro Neves, Ivan Lins, Moacir Santos, João Donato, and original compositions by Conrado Paulino and Debora Gurgel. Mark can be heard on the alto and soprano saxes. His sound is playful and sharp at the same time. He has no problem at all to lead the quintet in the often complicated Brazilian harmonies. It’s a joy to hear how he seduces his accompanists to dig deep into their unmistakably present jazz skills. Especially when Debora Gurgel plays the Fender Rhodes on “A Nova Sem Nome,” it’s a meeting of two worlds with the bossa rhythm and the jazz sound of the electric piano. On the alto sax, Mark Isbell managed to develop his own sound, or rather: his own style. He knows how to cleverly mix his love for Brazilian music with what he learned during his development as a saxophonist. It’s illustrated on the extreme beautiful rendition of “Doce Presença,” one of the highlights of the CD.

Mark Isbell quintet

Encontro is an album that will please jazz fans in general and Brazilian jazz fans in particular. Each of the eleven tracks is recorded with a cool São Paulo craftsmanship and performed with a warm Brazilian heart. A combination that can’t fail when it’s in the hands of the musicians we hear on Encontro. It was a great meeting (encontro), there in São Paulo; that’s for sure!
Mark has his own website.



Mark Isbell
Independent (2016)
Time: 62’13”


  1. Chora Tua Tristeza (Oscar Castro Neves – Luvercy Fiorini)
  2. A Nova Sem Nome (Conrado Paulino)
  3. Da Pá Virada (Debora Gurgel – Dani Gurgel)
  4. Doce Presença (Ivan Lins – Vitor Martins)
  5. Seu Encanto (The Face I Love) (Marcos Valle)
  6. April Child (Moacir Santos)
  7. Porque Somos Iguais (Durval Ferreira – Pedro Camargo)
  8. Quem Diz Que Sabe (João Donato – Paulo Sérgio Valle)
  9. Samba Da Catalina (Conrado Paulino)
  10. Deixa (Baden Powell)
  11. Quiet Little Lady (Debora Gurgel)