A Garden of Pleasure
Brazilian music, whether vocal or instrumental, seems to have world appeal. Whether in New York or Japan, you will likely find excellent musicians promoting what is best about Brazilian music. Sometimes the performers are Brazilian themselves. However, what makes music so unique is its capability to cross borders and yet maintain a national identity. Here is one such release.
First Dream, produced by Steve Sacks and Kimson Plaut, is a perfect example of Brazilian instrumental music spiced up with haunting vocals. All music and lyrics were written by Steve Sacks, who also performs saxes and flutes. Sacks is no stranger to Brazilian music. This jazz saxophonist and musicologist has performed with giants such as Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, Astrud Gilberto, Elza Soares, Margareth Menezes, Toninho Horta, Lisa Ono, and he was also the producer of Ana Caram’s Maracanã and Bossa Nova releases and Kimson Plaut’s Ubatuba. With such credentials, when I first heard of First Dream, I knew what to expect. However, what I did not know was that First Dream would surprise me even more than I had anticipated.
First Dream, in Sacks’s own words, is a collection of music he wrote but never had the chance to record previously. The album mesmerizes by including both vocal and instrumental Caribbean rhythms along with ballads and rhythms from the Brazilian Northeast. The opening track, “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” is a lively mixture of jazz, mambo, and forró. This infectious rhythm combination sets the stage for Sacks’ solos as well as other members of his band (Vanderlei Pereira on drums, Frank Colón on percussion, Dario Eskenazi on piano, Paul Meyers on guitar, and several others). In “Comunhão,” Manny Moreira presents the first vocal of the album in a reggae with the same captivating beat as some of Djavan’s best tunes. Greg Skaff’s guitar solo has a special place in this song as it precedes Sacks nice, smooth soprano sax interlude. Then we hear the heavenly voice of Vanessa Falabella in “A Glória da Vida.” The introduction featuring Dario Eskenazi’s piano and Kimson Plaut’s accordion solos is soothing, as is Falabella’s vocals. She repeats her magic again in “Ser Feliz,” another soft ballad with childlike qualities of innocence and purity. The simplicity of this arrangement is entrancing. Sax, piano and cello (by Richard Bamping) are perfectly interwoven to bring out the strength of the lyrics. Another sublime moment in First Dream surfaces with “Open Door.” It is hard to put into words the beauty of Sacks’ flute solos in this most captivating instrumental number. “Open Door” evolves into a slow frevo at one point and then switches into a sumptuous, effervescent bossa nova.
Steve Sacks opens more than just doors with First Dream. He artistically and skillfully exposes the vast universe of Brazilian music for your ears delight. First Dream, as its music so vividly states, is a garden of pleasures and a world of joy.
For more information on the album and artist, please visit Steve Sacks‘s web site.
AMJ Records ABCJ-78 (1999)
All tracks by Steve Sacks, except where noted.
- The Garden of Earthly Delights (Boca do Lixo)
- Comunhão – w/ Manny Moreira
- The Joy of Living (A Glória da Vida) w/ Vanessa Falabella
- Irmã, Amiga (Sister and Friend) – w/ Manny Moreira
- Ser Feliz (To Be Happy (Steve Sacks – Teresa Bráulio) – w/ Vanessa Falabella
- Open Door (Porta Aberta)
- Certain Victory (Steve Sacks – Shunzo Ohno)
A modified version of this review first appeared in Luna Kafé, 12/22/99.