Refined and Classy
Before I listened to Requinte Trio’s Honey & Air the first time, I cannot deny my apprehension mixed with anticipation. Having only been familiar with Janis Siegel (one of the founding members of the famous Manhattan Transfer), I didn’t know what to expect. Would this be an album with Brazilian songs performed in English only? The repertoire looked solid. My fears quickly dissipated the moment the first track played. How could I not have heard of this release before? I clearly have some catching up to do here.
Requinte Trio is Nanny Assis (vocals, percussion guitar), Janis Siegel (vocals) and John di Martino (piano, keyboard, whistling). Individually, each member brings a wealth of musical knowledge and experience. Nanny Assis is renowned Brazilian multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter hailing from Bahia. He has performed with Vinícius Cantuária and Eumir Deodato, among others. Janis Siegel is a nine-time Grammy Award winner vocalist, and she has also released ten solo albums. (A side note: as we say in Brazil, I’m card-carrying member of her fan base and have all those albums.) Pianist John di Martino is a fine musician in high demand, too. A former member of the Ray Barreto’s New World Spirit, John di Martino has recorded with James Moody, Paquito D’Rivera, Jon Hendricks, Diane Schurr and several others. These three talented musicians brought together the musical fusion we hear in Honey & Air, a fan-funded CD and remarkable first release by this stunning trio. Requinte Trio also adds a base support of musicians to this fine mixture: Paul Meyers (acoustic guitar) Leo Traversa (electric bass), Hans Glawischnig (acoustic bass), Ben Wittman (drums), Joel Frahm (tenor sax) and Vitor Gonsalves (accordion). All tracks were produced by the trio with John di Martino’s arrangements.
Nanny Assis was the one who came up with the trio name. When I asked him about how the idea to form the trio came about, his answer was quite clear:
Well, I’ve been living in NYC for almost 20 years now, and so in love with the jazz music as I am with the Brazilian sort. Therefore, why not blend them together?
To be honest in my mind, as soon as I met Janis, the idea of the group just flourished. Immediately after I knew that I needed the creator genius of John, who I simply pulled by the hand, as if I was inviting him to dance. Finally I brought along the fundamental presences of the incomparable Paul Meyers on guitar, man responsible for the Janis Siegel/Nanny Assis introduction by the way, as well as Leo Traversa on bass, who was completely foreigner from that circle. With that tide ensemble, I began the project by producing the first three tracks.
Anyone who listens to Requinte Trio will immediately realize they bring a unique sound to Brazilian music. The trio’s experience, of course, helps make that happen, but Nanny goes further and explains that this “unique” sound I allude to here…
…was actually effortless. See, Janis has heard my solo album Double Rainbow, and had fallen in love with almost every tune of that collection. I actually started coaching/teaching Janis Portuguese, and our very first chosen song, was a re-make from my solo album, “A Rã.” So between songs, and rhythms I was playing along, peculiar fusion came very naturally. I believe if we had to plan, or think a lot about creating something new, or “unique” as you say, it would not be as good and fluent.
A natural connection is indeed the best way to accomplish a solid product. Nanny did a superb job in coaching Janis with her Portuguese as you can attest by hearing the tracks here. I was totally blown away with her nearly perfect Portuguese accent. It seems effortless for her. I recall the Manhattan Transfer’s Brasil album, where they sang “Capim” in Portuguese. Janis’ command of Portuguese in Honey & Air is amazing.
As for the repertoire itself, Nanny says all three of them “brought ideas to the table.” John di Martino’s arrangements are beautiful creations that augment these tracks. Nanny adds that “John drips poetry from his fingers” and knows exactly how the tune should sound, and moreover how to make it happen.”
I’d also like to add that although Honey & Air fuses Brazilian and American Jazz, let’s be perfectly clear that this is pure Brazilian music in essence. Requinte Trio adds their personal musical adventures, but there’s no denying we are listening to Brazilian music — even in cases when the trio tackles the US classic and world songbook, such as “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” and “La Vie En Rose.”
Another interesting facet of Honey & Air is the fluid combination of vocals. Nanny’s and Janis’ voices complement each other perfectly well. As Nanny said, the trio was meant to be a “vocal group” from the start showcasing “a fusion of male and female voices, despite of the nature of the selected tunes, as well as shaping opportunities for some solos.” That is obviously heard from beginning to end.
Honey & Air will likely have the same effect on you as it did for me. Djavan and Cacaso’s opener, “Lambada de Serpente” smoothly sets the listener for the magic alliance of Nanny’s and Janis’ voices and John’s arrangements and solos. With João Donato and Caetano Veloso‘s “A Rã” the trio begins to prove their commitment to a fantastic swinging track and vocal artistry. You can hear that again in “Balancé” with the accordion-spiced “Requinteiros (Tio Macaco), a great forró fusion performance! Now, when you hear “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” and “La Vie En Rose” in a soft Bossa arrangement, the album title really sinks in. This is pure honey. To take that up a notch, then you have the heavenly rendition of Ivan Lins‘ “Acaso.” Janis commands — as she usually does in her performances! — and Nanny matches her brilliance note for note. John’s piano accompaniment on this track is simply hypnotizing. Requinte Trio becomes one powerhouse — again!
Honey & Air is bound to keep playing wherever you go. I simply cannot get enough of it, and I already look forward to future releases by the trio. For now, I need to find me a way to get to New York to watch these guys in a live performance! You can visit Requinte Trio at their home on the internet and Facebook.
Honey & Air
- Lambada de Serpente (Djavan – Cacaso)
- A Rã (João Donato – Caetano Veloso)
- I Didn’t Know What Time it Was (Richard Rodgers – Lorenz Hart)
- No Tomorrow / Acaso (Ivan Lins – English lyrics: Peter Eldridge)
- Balancé (Sara Tavares)
- Our Samba Prayer (Orassamba) (Guinga – English lyrics: Janis Siegel – Rabbi Harry Levin)
- Insensatez (Morrie Louden – Nanny Assis)
- Requinteiros “Tio Macaco” (Michael League – Nanny Assis – Rap “Repente Legal” by Nanny Assis & Josemar Moisés)
- La Vie En Rose (Edith Piaf – Louis Guglielmi – Marienne Michel – English lyrics: Mack David – Frank Eyton)
- Photograph / Fotografia (Antônio Carlos Jobim – English lyrics: Ray Gilbert)