The music of Moacir Santos (Pernambuco, 1926 – California, 2006) has always been a mark in Brazilian and world music. In the beginning of his career in the 1940s, he played with Severino Araújo, maestro of the famous Orquestra Tabajara and soon became the leader of that orchestra. A few years later, he moved to Rio de Janeiro and became a member of the Orquestra do Maestro Chiquinho. At the same time, while studying musical theory and harmony with names such as Cláudio Santoro, Guerra Peixe and Hans Joachim Koellreutter, Moacir would soon become a permanent member of the Rádio Nacional in Rio de Janeiro. In the mid-1950s, he was invited to direct the Record TV Orchestra in São Paulo. When he returned to Rio again, he worked with the great Ary Barroso. It was in the 1960s, though, that Moacir’s career skyrocketed. Writing movie soundtracks and working with Bossa Nova masters, including Paulo Moura, Sérgio Mendes, Roberto Menescal, Nara Leão, Dori Caymmi, Baden Powell and João Donato, Moacir then released the anthological album Coisas in 1965. After a trip to New York, in 1967 he moved permanently to Los Angeles, where he began teaching music at home. He then worked with Henry Mancini, and in 1972 Moacir released The Maestro, which received a Grammy nomination. History was written.
Not a household name in Brazil, but a highly regarded jazz musician, pianist Mark Levine is no stranger to Brazilian music. With a music degree from Boston University, Mark started his career in the late 1950s. After moving to Los Angeles in the late 1960s, he then became involved with several top-notch jazz and Latin artists including Cuban bassist Humberto Cane, conguero Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo’s band and also Moacir Santos. Mark played piano and Rhodes in Moacir’s 1974 Saudade album.
When Mark moved to the Bay Area in 1974, he found himself again in the middle of jazz giants working regularly with Joe Henderson, Stan Getz and others. A milestone in Mark’s career took place in 1996, when he traveled to Cuba and studied with Hilario Duran and Chucho Valdés. Upon returning to the Bay Area, he created his Afro-Caribbean group, The Latin Tinge, with Paul van Wageningen (drums), Michael Spiro (percussion), John Wiitala (bass) and Mary Fettig (flute, soprano sax, bass clarinet). With their very first release, Hey, It’s Me (2000), Mark already showed his affinity to Brazilian music. Caetano Veloso’s “Você Não Gosta de Mim” was featured in that album. Again in 2001, with Serengeti, Mark included the haunting José Miguel Wisnik composition “Assum Branco.” So, dedicating an entire album to the music of Moacir Santos was a logical step.
Produced by Bud Spangler and Mark Levine and engineered by Dan Feiszli, Off & On – The Music of Moacir Santos could probably be a risky proposition for any Afro-Caribbean artist, but certainly not for Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge. Taking “Recife to Havana,” as Mark says, was challenging but clearly rewarding to both the artists and listeners. The arrangements create a new world for Moacir’s music, particularly with the use of wind instrument solos in the hands of the capable Mary Fettig. The ensemble stamps its delicious Latin flavor to timeless songs. “Nana” sets the tone with Mark’s piano intro and Michael’s infectious percussion. It’s hard to resist staying still. The title track, “Off and On,” goes along the same lines. In this particular rendition, the arrangement is tight and very lively, giving each musician ample room to jam. Piano and flute are at the forefront and are supported masterfully by bass, drum and percussion. This track is fantastic! A nice surprise is given in “Luanne,” when Mark leaves behind the Afro-Caribbean rhythm and delves deep into a samba arrangement. Yes, Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge know Latin music — samba included! Wrapping up the repertoire, Mark went back to the track he’d played together with Moacir Santos, “A Saudade Mata a Gente.” Saudade was never this upbeat as in this creative and truly captivating arrangement. Off & On closes the circle beautifully and adds a new twist to the Moacir Santos repertoire with this fine album.
To learn more about the artist and this release, please visit Mark Levine.
Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge
Off & On – The Music of Moacir Santos
Left Coast Clave 004 (2009)
All tracks by Moacir Santos, except where noted.
- Early Morning Love
- Off and On
- April Child (aka Maracatu)
- Tomorrow Is Mine
- Haply Happy
- What’s My Name (aka Odudua)
- Luanne (aka Sou Eu)
- A Saudade Mata a Gente (Antônio Almeida – João de Barro)