Aug 06 2009

Mark Isbell & Brazilian Friends: Samba Copacabana

A Brazilian Love Affair


Samba Copacabana

With a title as Samba Copacabana, Californian born saxophonist Mark Isbell (1960, Santa Ana) leaves no doubt about what to expect. The musical road Mark Isbell followed during his life somehow had to lead to this recording. With both parents being musicians, he absorbed music at an early age. The story goes that Mark already sang along with Sinatra records before he could actually talk… Also in the family record library were Sergio Mendes albums and the Brazilian influenced records by Stan Getz. However, the most important album Mark discovered was Cannonball’s Bossa Nova by his great hero, the alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (1928-1975). The album helped inspiring Mark to dedicate his talent to Brazilian Jazz. Along the road Mark, who played the alto sax since age 12, developed his skills by studying (with private teachers like Don Hawkins, Phil Woods; and at the Berklee College of Music in Boston), and by performing with various fellow students. Meeting the Los Angeles living Brazilian singer Katia Moraes in the early 1990’s, opened the way to performing with California based Brazilian musicians. It stimulated Mark’s interest in Brazilian music even further. In 2003 Mark Isbell packed his bags and spent three months in Rio, absorbing the beauty of the city and its music. In 2005 he returned for another six months, during which time this album was recorded. Over the years Mark Isbell got to know quite some musicians in Rio and they were glad to lend their talents to the recording of Samba Copacabana.

Mark IsbellThe album opens very jazzy with an attractive rendition of trumpeter Bobby Shew’s “Navarro Flats.” This Brazilian flavoured arrangement sets the mood for the rest of the album. It’s clear that Mark Isbell is a virtuoso on the alto sax. The acoustic guitar from Nelson Faria is the glue that holds the instrumentation together throughout this album. Mark cleverly uses this security to put his own mark on the music. Jessé Sadoc pays tribute to Bobby Shew with a wonderful solo on the flugelhorn. We hear Sadoc again on the following “The Monster and the Flower,” a typical Claudio Roditi composition that can be found on his album Red on Red (1984) with Paquito D’Rivera on alto sax. Jessé Sadoc (trumpet) and Mark Isbell (alto sax) fulfil their replacing roles with a great deal of verve. The Brazilian atmosphere definitely takes over and immediately reaches a climax with the lazy sounding samba-canção “Preciso Aprender a Ser Só,” which is among the biggest hits from the Valle brothers (Marcos and Paulo Sérgio), written in 1965. It’s a beautiful rendition with nice soloing by Mark Isbell on alto, Nelson Faria and pianist Hamleto Stamato (1968, not to be confused with his same named father Hamleto Stamato, saxophonist with Hermeto Pascoal). “Rio” (by Nelson Faria from his self titled solo album) is a good example of Brazilian Jazz with some great soloing by Nelson Faria (acoustic guitar), Marco Brito on the Fender Rhodes piano and the leader on soprano sax (ending the song with a tiny little hint to the “Girl from Ipanema”). The track is followed by three standards from the Brazilian songbook: “Se É Tarde Me Perdoa” (Carlos Lyra, also known as “Forgive Me if I Was Late”), “O Morro Não Tem Vez” (that Tom Jobim composed in 1963) and “Pra Dizer Adeus” (Edu Lobo). This last song is performed in a solid quintet format with beautiful bass lines by Mark’s good friend Nema Antunes (Nelson Faria is on acoustic guitar, Marco Brito on acoustic piano, Erivelton Silva on drums and Mark Isbell impresses again on soprano saxophone). “Batida Diferente” and “Nuvens” are two compositions by harmonica player Maurício Einhorn (1923) and guitarist Durval Ferreira (1935-2007). The tracks feature the harmonica from Maurício Einhorn, also a Brazilian friend of Mark Isbell. “Tanya” is composed by another good friend of Mark, guitarist Peter Sprague, who co-produced Mark’s first album Jazz Influence. The song is a dedication to the work of the legendary singer/ pianist Tania Maria. “Samba For Carmen” ends the album in a festive way, leaving us with a most entertaining CD that offers music with a sunny reference to Rio’s beautiful beaches.

You can visit Mark on his MySpace site.



Mark Isbell & Brazilian Friends
Samba Copacabana
Independent (2009)
Time: 53’39”


  1. Navarro Flats (Bobby Shew)
  2. The Monster And The Flower (Claudio Roditi)
  3. Preciso Aprender A Ser Só (Marcos Valle)
  4. Rio (Nelson Faria)
  5. Se É Tarde Me Perdoa Carlos Lyra)
  6. O Morro Não Tem Vez (Tom Jobim)
  7. Pra Dizer Adeus (Edu Lobo)
  8. Batida Diferente (Maurício Einhorn – Durval Ferreira)
  9. Nuvens (Maurício Einhorn – Durval Ferreira)
  10. Tanya (Peter Sprague)
  11. Samba For Carmen (Paquito D’Rivera)