Austin, Texas, claims to be the Live Music Capital of the World. This strong statement is supported in part by the world-famous SXSW (South by Southwest) and ACL (Austin City Limits) music festivals as well as Carnaval Brasileiro (over 30 years strong) Pachanga Latino Musical Festival, Urban Music Festival, Fun, Fun, Fun Fest and many other musical celebrations. With over 100 venues offering a variety of musical genres from Indie to Latin/Tejano, Blues/Soul, Country and World Beat, the city is vibrant throughout the 12 months of the calendar. Although Austin is home for me, I was surprised when I heard about Mente Clara. Where have I been hiding?!
Mente Clara has its origins back in 2012, when pianist Owen Summers and bassist Daniel Durham got together with the intent to explore the music of Hermeto Pascoal. They were joined by saxophonist Brian Donohoe, drummer Aaron Parks, and later on percussionist Bruno Vinezof and accordionist Jan Flemming joined the group. Their first album was released in 2014 (Wanderlust) and included the classic forró “Asa Branca” in the album’s track listing as well as other forró and Hermeto’s music.
If you are one of the few people unfamiliar with Hermeto’s music, he is a Brazilian musician/orchestra affectionately known as the Sorcerer. He was born in the northeastern state of Alagoas (the same state as Djavan) in June 1936. He plays just about everything and anything, including pots and pans — literally! He has performed all over the globe, and his compositions are numerous. Back in June 1996, for example, he decided to write one composition a day wherever he was, and the Calendário do Som (Sound Calendar) was then published in 1999.
Years ago I used the term acid forró to describe the music of Karnak‘s 1997 self-titled album. It was clearly a term of endearment as an attempt to describe music that is hard to classify in a few words. Fast forward to now. With this second album, Forrozêra, Mente Clara solidifies that term in my head. Mente Clara’s forró mixes elements of jazz, Hermeto Pascoal‘s experimental music and the powerhouse that forró music is. Forrozêra never sounded more Hermeto-ish. In addition to the musicians previously mentioned above, Jonathan McNutt (saxophone and hand claps) and Laura Otero (vocals) add to the ensemble in this recording. There is also a short message from Hermeto Pascoal himself that Daniel Durham added to the track “Message from Hermeto.” That alone follows closely in the footsteps of the Sorcerer’s music. Classic Hermeto!
Mente Clara takes forró to another level. The rhythm is present, of course, but the arrangements and instrumentation introduce forró to jazz. When you hear forró in a typical setting, it often involves three main instruments: the accordion, zambumba (a round drum) and a triangle. In Forrozêra, the accordion is present, but not as a main instrument. Clearly what the listener will hear more prominently is a beautiful ensemble with a strong brass presence. Take, for example, the opener for the album, “My Cats.” I simply love the introduction leading into the forró. The same goes with “Essa Foi Demais,” with Brian Donohoe’s sax presence dominating the solos. Mente Clara’s forró is infectious! In “Tertúlia,” the samba beat shows yet the diversity this group brings to Brazilian music. When not playing Hermeto Pascoal‘s music, the group never misses its purpose, as clearly evidenced in the original compositions by Owen Summers, Daniel Durham and others. The title track, “Forrozêra,” is right on target with the album repertoire, as is the case with “Message from Hermeto.” Daniel Durham used a recorded message Hermeto sent the group and added it to music. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Hermeto likely enjoyed this experimentation.
Acid forró or forró jazz or whatever you want to call it, the music of Mente Clara is lively to say the least. These guys struck gold with their sound and repertoire choices. Please take some time to visit Mente Clara on the web as well as their YouTube channel until you have a chance to see them live. You’ll be glad you did it.
- My Cats (Masumi Jones)
- Essa Foi Demais (Hermeto Pascoal)
- Tertúlia (Hermeto Pascoal)
- Forrozêra (Caio Barreira)
- Waltz for Hank (Owen Summers)
- Message from Hermeto (Daniel Durham)
- 15 de Dezembro (Hermeto Pascoal)
- Kalsa (Owen Summers)
- Menina Ilza (Hermeto Pascoal)
- Bruxo (Owen Summers)
- Sunrise (Owen Summers)