Brazil - BRAZZIL - Rick Warm and his Malandro company - Brazilian Music - April 2001

April 2001

An American Malandro

Rick Warm's record label is
the hardest-working malandro around

Daniella Thompson

Meu chapéu de lado
Tamanco arrastando
Lenço no pescoço
Navalha no bolso,
Eu passo gingando
Provoco e desafio,
Eu tenho orgulho em ser tão vadio.

My hat cocked
Clogs dragging
Kerchief round my neck
Knife in the pocket,
I pass swinging
Provoking and challenging,
I take pride in being so idle.

The classic malandro never worked for a living. He was a pimp, a gambler, a thief, or a sambista (sometimes all four combined), living on his luck, charm, and ruthlessness. Composer Wilson Batista, who prided himself on never having held a job in his life, paid tribute to the malandro in the 1933 samba "Lenço no Pescoço" (Kerchief Round the Neck), provoking Noel Rosa to exhort him in the samba "Rapaz Folgado" (Successful Fellow) to stop dragging his clogs, throw away the knife, replace the kerchief with a jacket and tie, and start concentrating on his music. Noel concluded:

Malandro é palavra derrotista
Que só serve pra tirar
Todo o valor de um sambista.
Proponho ao povo civilizado
Não te chamar de malandro
E sim de rapaz folgado.

Malandro is a defeatist word
That serves only to strip
All the value from a sambista.
I propose to civilized folks
Not to call you a malandro
But a successful fellow.

Entrepreneur Rick Warm evidently identified more closely with Noel's stance than with Wilson's when he founded a record company in 1996 and named it Malandro Records. Since then, he's been keeping very busy. In less than five years, the label has released eighteen CDs of music that Warm calls Brazilian jazz and that, in fact, encompasses choro, samba, bossa nova, and MPB, as well as jazz (see Balaio do Malandro for CD capsule descriptions). If they're not so easily classified, Malandro's offerings are nevertheless readily recognizable via their covers, incorporating tinted photos shot in Brazil during the early 1940s by the American photographer Genevieve Naylor. But the covers are the only historic aspect of Malandro's releases. The recordings are decidedly modern, even when they're interpreting older compositions. Such is the case with master guitarist Paulinho Nogueira, whose treatment of Ernesto Nazareth's tango "Odeon" (1910) infuses new shades that extend from a berimbau effect to loose improvisation in varying tempi. The same can be said of reedman Carlos Malta, whose soprano-sax & string-quartet arrangement for Pixinguinha's warhorse "Carinhoso" (1917) crosses the boundaries of popular music into the modern classic realm. Yet the mainstay of Malandro's catalog consists of music of the past few decades, much of it composed by its interpreters and therefore scarcely heard elsewhere. The musicians themselves are far from being the run of the mill—even to listeners who are well-versed in the Brazilian repertoire—so an album like UZ 22's Renascimento, with its jazz-rock fusion interpretations of Milton Nascimento's standards, comes as a fresh contribution, while Tutty Moreno's jazzy renditions of Dorival Caymmi's songs accomplish a similar feat.

Malandro's recordings range from the pleasant to the extraordinarily beautiful. Without exception, they feature highly accomplished musicians, many of them in the world-class category. This small label is at the forefront of educating the American public to appreciate less-obvious trends in Brazilian music. The task isn't an easy one and begs the question as to why a businessman from Ohio would choose to specialize in Brazilian music made by artists who are, on the whole, little known in the U.S. I asked Rick Warm to tell us this and other stories from his musical life.

Brazzil—Where did you grow up?

Rick Warm—I was born and raised in Cincinnati. From high school I began to travel and live in various countries, including Brazil, but I ended up actually moving back to Cincinnati after meeting the woman I would subsequently marry (a childhood friend of my sister). We have four children, and our parents live in Cincinnati—giving us built-in babysitters and a good support network.

Brazzil—Do you come from a musical family?

Rick Warm—Yes, kind of. My father's mother's side of the family was definitely the musical part of the family tree. My grandmother was a concert pianist, and her maiden name was Funk—also my father's middle name. I was always jealous of that name growing up—what a great stage name that would have been! My grandmother's brother was a jazz cornet player who made his living touring and playing throughout Europe.

Brazzil—Are you a musician? If so, what instrument(s) do you play, and what type of music?

Rick Warm—I don't claim to be a musician any more, though I still dabble. I studied piano growing up and was in a number of jazz bands through college. I had wanted to be a professional musician and study music, but my father, wise to the difficulties of the life of an artist—and probably also keener about my own personality, discouraged me. He told me to study something in college that would be better suited for making money—and then if I still wanted to go to music school, he would help me. By the time I had graduated from college, I had forgotten about that promise.

Though I always was a pianist, I had a love affair with the guitar—particularly the Brazilian sound. In graduate school, knowing I would be going to Brazil, I began to study classical guitar. After arriving in Brazil, I began to study more of an MPB_based guitar; this is how I met Rick Udler. Then, upon returning to the U.S., I continued studying jazz guitar.

But unfortunately I have had to give up practicing and playing, as time does not allow me to do much more than run my business and raise a family of four kids six-years old and younger.

Brazzil—How did you relationship with Brazilian music begin?

Rick Warm—I very vividly remember my slow introduction to Brazilian music. The first song I remember was, of course, "The Girl from Ipanema" with João Gilberto, Stan Getz, and Jobim. I don't remember the first time I actually heard the song, but I remember hearing it quite a bit growing up. We were blessed with a great jazz radio station in Cincinnati that just recently shut down, and my father would listen to it a lot. That's where I am sure I first heard that song.

Brazzil—What in particular attracted you to the music?

Rick Warm—What attracted me to the music was a vibe, a feeling. It was sultry yet sophisticated. It was full of soul, yet very laid back. It just cried out to me like a Siren song.

In junior high school I started listening to rock. There was another very good progressive rock station that was quite eclectic, and every once in a while they would play Brazilian music. I remember hearing Flora Purim do "Nada Será Como Antes" and Milton doing "Fairy Tale Song."

In tenth grade I moved to Israel and lived on a kibbutz in the north of the country. My adopted father was really into jazz—especially Ella, Sinatra, and lots of singers. My best friend's father was also into jazz, but he had what became a seminal album for us: Jazz Samba, with Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd.

At that point I started playing jazz, and we formed a band and started doing Jobim songs. From that point on, I slowly began collecting Brazilian recordings. At that time there was no such thing as the Internet, of course, so you learned about music through trial and error. By the time I was out of college, I had probably close to a thousand LPs—many of which I didn't like. But the recordings that stick out in my mind are Flor de Lis and Seduzir by Djavan, several by Caetano (Cores Nomes, Velo, Outras Palavras, Qualquer Coisa), A Sede do Peixe, Juntos by Ivan Lins, and a couple of compilations.

In college I was playing jazz and some Brazilian music (while not studying music), but it seems I had almost forgotten about what initially wowed me about the music. Upon graduation, I got a job in Vienna, Austria and I remember that my very first night there, some friends took me to a Brazilian bar, and there was this singer/guitarist playing. The place was packed—probably mostly Brazilians. He had everyone singing. There was so much happiness, it seemed (not to sound too corny). But it really made this impression on me. I was surprised that everyone seemed to know the words of each song. I thought I knew something about the music and I found I didn't recognize almost a single song.

So I kept learning and researching the music more and more. Towards the end of the '80s I got a job in Japan. I was absolutely stunned to see the number of Brazilian artists and recordings and the amount of activity in Japan. That was when I decided to apply to graduate school for International Business. I chose to attend the University of South Carolina, which has one of the top ranked IB programs. On my application I had to choose a language/country in which I would specialize. One of the options was Brazil. I reasoned that I had already lived on most of the major continents, but I had never lived in South America. And Brazil was a large country with a huge economy, so...

But by that point, I chose Brazil mainly because of the music.

And to bring a very long story to an end, when I arrived in Brazil, I began taking guitar lessons and eventually met Rick Udler. Rick took my musical education up to the next level. I will never forget a 4-hour listening session we had after my first lesson with him. We were listening to Elis e Tom, and he played "Por Toda Minha Vida." The emotion behind that voice—it just blew me away. That session included Clube da Esquina, as well as a whole slew of guitarists, including someone who I am proud to include on my roster and as my friend—Ulisses Rocha.

Brazzil—What gave you the idea to start a label? And why a Brazilian label?

Rick Warm—The idea came from a number of directions. I had been working in the corporate world since I had graduated from college, and one day I finally realized that it was not my scene. By that time I was married and had my first child on the way. My friendship with Rick and Maria Alvim had grown, and since my internship in Brazil after grad school, I had returned to Brazil at least once a year.

I had fallen in with some people in the entertainment business, and they brought me into a venture that did not make it, but I was introduced to the concept of the independent record label and an organization, then called NAIRD and now called AFIM, which is made up entirely of indies.

Shortly thereafter I quit my job and started investigating new options. One of them was a record label. Before starting Malandro, I wanted to be sure I wasn't going in with rose-colored glasses—though I certainly did not realize just how hard it would be. At the same time—because of my friendship with Rick and Maria and the musicians I met through them—I realized how difficult it was for good Brazilian musicians to record and work. Brazil is a weird place. It produces some of the greatest instrumentalists in the world, yet as a society they largely shun anything but vocal music. So, Malandro was started partly to help my friends and to try to give them a chance to express themselves, and partly to satisfy my desire to be a part of the music and the culture of Brazil.

Why a Brazilian label? The answer to this is very simple. It is the music that I know best. It is the music I feel most passionate about. And, outside of Brazil, nobody else was doing what I wanted to do—so it was a perfect niche.

Brazzil—What's the profile of Malandro? It's not strictly jazz and not strictly instrumental.

Rick Warm—I've had a variety of "formulas" to explain the Malandro profile over the years, but it basically comes down to a few key points. The music has to be Brazilian—it has to come from that tradition of samba, bossa, choro, MPB—but with some kind of jazz touch. I usually only record Brazilians, with very few exceptions. The music has to be original—it can be a Jobim song—but the approach has to be unique. And, the music needs to move me. Because ultimately, I have to get behind it and fight for it.

Over time I have learned that there has to be a certain level of commerciality for a record to be successful. I am not sure I have come upon the right combination. For some music that I adore, sometimes I throw that out the window—like in the case of choro. That is an uphill battle, but one I am willing to fight.

I have also learned that my relationship with the musicians is critical. It used to be that I would simply go after what I thought was the best music. But the process of developing a product and selling not only the music but also the idea of what this music is takes an incredible amount of time. And the artists I now choose to work with fully understand that, are willing to support what I do, and work hard for themselves—they don't sit back and wait for the "big record company" to make things happen for them. I also choose to work with musicians who are not only hard workers, but also humble. I can't stand the huge egos, particularly when we have to fight so hard for such a small piece of the pie. Life is way too short. But the artists I work with know that I am constantly doing my best for them, whether or not the results are immediate.

Brazzil—What are your criteria for selecting albums to release?

Rick Warm—This has changed with time as well. I used to do a fair amount of licensing—usually product that was available only in Brazil. But I am doing the bulk of the recordings now. That way I have more control over the final product and don't have to worry about what's going on behind my back.

As I mentioned before, I am looking for bands that are really creative—music that is representative of what is happening in Brazil today—not 40 years ago. And we are looking for ways to make this "Brazilian Jazz" more appealing to the public at large. I've just gone into the studio with one of my all-time favorite groups, the Trio da Paz, to record their next album. This recording features several well-known guest artists. Our special guests are Dianne Reeves on two cuts, Joe Lovano on two cuts, and Cesar Camargo Mariano on one and maybe two cuts. It is a well-proven way to expand your audience, which helps us sell CDs of course, but also helps more people become aware of the music and helps the Trio da Paz increase their marketability as a performing group.

Speaking of the Trio da Paz (of course, anyone who's into Brazilian jazz has probably heard of them), this must have happened in early 1997, not too long after their Black Orpheus release on Kokopelli. I was in New York on business, and it was one of those weird winters where it was hot one day and cold the next. I had arrived in New York with a coat shell but no lining, and it literally froze overnight. It was a Saturday, and by the afternoon I knew I needed some warmth, so after calling around town, I found that I could find a fleece for my coat downtown at a big sporting goods store off Union Square. After buying the fleece, I walked down Union Square West a few blocks and heard some really great music coming out of a restaurant. It was about 4:45 p.m., and I popped in to warm up and listen. The band was really great, and obviously Brazilian. There was a pianist, a bass player, a drummer, and a female vocalist. At that time I had recorded only one album, Rhythm & Romance, and was looking for new artists. Unfortunately, the group stopped playing at 5:00, so I didn't get to hear too much, but it also gave me an opportunity to talk to them as they were packing up and talking with their fans and friends. The drummer was the only one not talking when I approached the bandstand. So I started talking with him, telling him a little about my company, etc. I told him I didn't know who they were, but I would certainly be interested in talking with them about recording. When I asked the name of the band, he looked at me incredulously and said, "We're the Trio da Paz." Only at that point did I recognize Duduka, Nilson, and Maúcha. The pianist was Dario Eskenazi, a token member of the group along with several other great pianists that sit in when Romero is not available (as is most often the case). And, of course, the venue was the Coffee Shop, on W. 16th and Union Square West—the only place to catch the Trio, or a good part of them, on a fairly consistent basis.

Duduka and I got together the next day and talked for a long time. But it really wasn't until another year later, at the IAJE conference in New York, that I nailed down the details with Romero and Nilson, and Partido Out became the fifth Malandro Release.

Brazzil—What are your other original releases?

Rick Warm—Original Malandro recordings include Rhythm & Romance (my first baby); Ulisses Rocha's Moleque; Partido Out by the Trio; Guarani Banana by Zé Luis; Filó Machado's Cantando um Samba; Reflexões by Paulinho Nogueira; Hendrik Meurkens and Nilson Matta's Encontros; and the newest CD, Balaio by Richard Boukas and Jovino Santos Neto.

Brazzil—Was Água de Moringa's Saracoteando released by Malandro before it came out in Brazil?

Rick Warm—You know, I honestly do not remember. I think we may have released it first. We had been working on it jointly for some time. Água de Moringa was one of the very first bands I wooed. I love those guys. They are so good.

Brazzil—How did you come to release Carlos Malta's Jeitinho Brasileiro?

Rick Warm—I met Carlos Malta by accident in São Paulo. I was on the set of the long-running TV show Ensaio hosted by Fernando Faro at TV Cultura to meet one of my most favorite musicians and composers—Guinga. He was in São Paulo with Leila Pinheiro, Lula Galvão, and Malta among others just to record the show, and he had invited me to the taping. He introduced me to the band before the taping began, and Carlos, upon hearing about the record label, thrust a CD and a tape into my hands and told me to take a listen. At that point I had really not known too much about him, other than the Hermeto connection. The CD was this great indie recording he had made with Swiss cellist Daniel Pezzotti. The tape contained some first takes of what would become Jeitinho Brasileiro. Needless to say, I was hooked immediately and was thankful that he was brash enough to force his music upon me.

Brazzil—This probably happens to you quite frequently.

Rick Warm—I think that music, like anything else in life, is one of those things that are so personal, in many cases you either love it or hate it. I find this particularly the case when there are musicians involved judging another's work. At the CD Expo in Rio one year, I was walking through the aisles with a musician friend when somebody very timid approached me and asked if I was Rick Warm. I said yes, and he told me he was Robertinho Brant, nephew of Fernando Brant, and he had this recording that was being underwritten by the state of Minas Gerais in homage to Milton Nascimento. He wanted to know if I would be interested in hearing it. Of course I agreed, and he went his way. But the person I was with wasted no time in telling me I wouldn't like it. So when I later listened to the recording, I was already slightly jaded. Still, something in the recording struck me, and I listened to it again and again. It was really quite original, certainly had appeal to a more contemporary audience, and the musicianship was excellent. Since that time I have made a point to listen to projects people submit to me more than once—and I try to keep a very open mind.

Brazzil—You had a similar experience with Rabo de Lagartixa's Quebra-Queixo.

Rick Warm—Perhaps it's being in the right place at the right time or just coincidence, but I often end up meeting some of my future artists without planning—while other times I will actively search out an artist. I was in Rio a few summers ago, and a group left a most excellent choro CD for me. The group is Trio Madeira Brasil, made up of two guitarists and a mandolin player. I liked the CD so much that I called them to schedule a meeting. I knew I would not be able to release this recording as choro is a real hard sell, and I just wasn't in a position to focus on another hard-core choro album at the time. But I wanted to meet the band and at least make a contact. So we met at one of the guys' apartments and I explained to them the difficulty in promoting the music. One of the guitarists turned to the other (Marcello Gonçalves) and said, "well maybe he'd like Rabo." Marcello gave me a copy of a recording he was working on with another group called Rabo de Lagartixa—and it was just the kind of choro recording I thought would go over well at the time. Just an awesome group.

Brazzil—What are your best-selling CDs?

Rick Warm—Probably our best selling CD to date is Filó Machado's Cantando um Samba, followed by the Trio da Paz' Partido Out and Paulinho Nogueira's Reflexões.

Brazzil—How did you decide to go with the cover art you're using, incorporating Genevieve Naylor's photographs?

Rick Warm—Kind of by chance. At the same time I was contemplating starting Malandro, I also met a man who was to become a business partner (in a separate venture) and one of my very best friends, named Peter Reznikoff. His mother was a photographer who had lived in Brazil in the 1940s as part of a U.S. government_sponsored artistic exchange. She has an archive of photos from Brazil at that time that I found very striking.

All along, one of the ideas behind Malandro was to create an identity in the marketplace, and the use of these photos on the covers was something that I thought would convey the beauty of Brazil along with a feeling of the music. I wanted unequivocally to show Brazil on the covers, convey the idea that the music came from traditional roots but also was contemporary music. Thus the picture collage, the colorations, and finally what has become known as the "bullet"—the title of each album. I stole the idea of colorizing the photos from old Blue Note artwork. Also we designed the spines to be colorful and stand out while still maintaining the Malandro padrão [mold].

Brazzil—How did you settle on the name Malandro, and what (if any) were the other candidates for label name?

Rick Warm—It started really as a joke. Actually, I never really started the label necessarily with the intention of going at it full time. But during the time of my life that I was exploring various options, including the label, one day I think I just came up with the name rather spontaneously. I remember being in New York, at the home of a Brazilian composer with some other friends (Brazilians and not), and I tossed out the name for their reaction. It was immediate, most of them loved it—they laughed and thought it was perfect. The rest instantly hated it. And that is how the name has been received by people who speak the language since then—you either love it or hate it.

There is an expression in Brazil: Fale mal de mim, mas fale de mim [talk badly of me, but talk about me]. And the fact of the matter is, people started talking about the label. More importantly, outside of Brazil, where most of our sales are made, the name and concept of the malandro is a story to be told. It is not simply a name. We have a wonderful explanation of the Malandro on our brochure and we go to great pains to explain that the Malandro we refer to is not what one would refer to from day to day. We are referring to a certain figura, an historical character, perhaps best represented by the likes of Moreira da Silva. Someone from a different era, when good music meant a respite from the day-to-day drag of life, not crime.

To be quite honest, there were never really any other names, other than Malandro.

Balaio do Malandro

The label's offerings

Richard Boukas & Jovino Santos Neto: Balaio (Basket) Mal 71017

Boukas, voted best Brazilian guitarist in the U.S. by GuitarOne magazine, is also a fine jazz vocalist. In this new album he joins brilliant pianist and longtime Hermeto Pascoal associate Santos Neto in a compelling synergy of various Brazilian rhythms—samba, baião, maracatu, choro, and frevo—impregnated with the intricacies of jazz harmony. The duo interprets four tunes written by each and four by Pascoal. (See Jovino's track-by-track comments.)

Ulisses Rocha & Teco Cardoso: Caminhos Cruzados (Crossed Paths) MAL 71016

Guitarist Rocha and extraordinary reedman Cardoso—here playing alto, soprano, and baritone sax; flutes; piccolo; and bamboo flutes—execute six of Rocha's compositions, plus "Infância" (Egberto Gismonti), "Caminhos Cruzados" (Tom Jobim/Newton Mendonça), "Retrato em Branco e Preto" (Tom Jobim/Chico Buarque), and "A Noite" (Ivan Lins/Vitor Martins).

Nilson Matta & Hendrik Meurkens: Encontros (Meetings) MAL 71015

Bassist Nilson Matta teams up with harmonica and vibraphone player Hendrik Meurkens in a gorgeous production, also featuring ace guitarist Romero Lubambo and drummer Duduka da Fonseca (Nilson's partners in Trio da Paz), pianist Helio Alves, and vocalist Maúcha Adnet. The pair regales us with their individual compositions, augmented by two standards by Tom Jobim and one by Hermeto Pascoal.

Rabo de Lagartixa: Quebra-Queixo (Jaw Breaker) MAL 71014

This young and inventive choro group turns the traditional genre on its ear. Anchored by Daniela Spielmann's exuberant saxophones and punctuated by lively percussion, the band delights with tunes by Caio Cezar ("Quebra-Queixo"), Marco Pereira ("Paranoá"), Bilinho Teixeira ("Brincadeiras de Quintal"), and Luís Filipe de Lima ("Joãozinho na Gafieira"), along with better-known numbers by Baden Powell, Villa-Lobos, Waldir Azevedo, and Jacob do Bandolim.

Tutty Moreno: Forças d'Alma (Forces of the Soul) MAL 71013

The veteran jazz drummer is joined by bassist Rodolfo Stroeter, pianist André Mehmari, and reedman Nailor "Proveta" Azevedo in a set of tunes composed by the giants of MPB: Dorival Caymmi's "A Lenda do Abaeté," "Só Louco," "João Valentão," and "A Vizinha do Lado"; Joyce's "Baracumbara" and "Forças d'Alma"; Luiz Eça's "Alegria de Viver" and "Imagem"; Durval Ferreira's "Samba Novo"; and Egberto Gismonti's "Sanfona."

Ladston do Nascimento: A Voz do Coração (Voice of the Heart) MAL 71012

This talented singer from Minas Gerais, whose voice is eerily reminiscent of Milton Nascimento's, expertly interprets his own moving songs in a style that is firmly rooted in classic MPB.

Paulinho Nogueira: Reflexões (Reflections) MAL 73001

The Brazilian guitar legend offers a solo career retrospective that covers some of his own compositions ("Reflexões em 2 por 4," "Tons e Semitons"), bossa nova standards (Tom Jobim's "Chovendo na Roseira," Baden Powell's "Samba em Prelúdio"), and MPB (Sérgio Ricardo's "Zelão," Edu Lobo's "Chegança").

Filó Machado: Cantando um Samba (Singing Samba) MAL 71011

Machado's jazzy samba, vocal pyrotechnics, and instrumental showmanship recall Djavan and Joyce, but his swinging compositions and vocal/instrumental arrangements are uniquely his own.

Zé Luis: Guarani Banana MAL 71010

Saxophonist and flutist Zé Luis, an alumnus of Caetano Veloso's, Gilberto Gil's, and Tania Maria's bands, shows off his relaxed jazz compositions, joined by the likes of Romero Lubambo, Paulo Braga, and David Finck.

Café Jam: Môio (Rhythmic Spice) MAL 71009

A contemporary quintet, composed of saxophones, flutes, guitars, piano/keyboards, bass, drums and percussion, gives distinctly jazzy readings to Djavan's "Maçã" and Tom Jobim's "Samba do Avião" and "Passarim" when it's not executing compositions by group members Paulo Pascali Jr., Marcelo Zanettini, Yoshiya Kusamura, and Benoit Decharneux.

Terra Brasil: Mestiço (Mestizo) MAL 71008

This delectable jazz album comes with gafieira (dancehall), choro, and fantasy flavoring courtesy of a São Paulo sextet incorporating reeds, electric guitar and bass, flute, drums, and percussion.

Água de Moringa: Sarocoteando (Strolling) MAL 71007

This outstanding choro group packs its second disc with brilliant renditions of the old (Ernesto Nazareth's "Fon Fon," Pixinguinha's "Sensível," Jacob do Bandolim's "Saracoteando") the new (Hermeto Pascoal's "Intocável," Guinga's "Choro pra Zé") and the regional (Canhoto da Paraíba's "Com Mais de Mil," Guerra-Peixe's "Suíte Nordestina").

UZ 22: Renascimento MAL 71006

Milton Nascimento's melodies in new clothes woven in a weft of smooth jazz crossed with a warp of acid jazz.

Trio da Paz: Partido Out MAL 71005

Guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Nilson Matta, and drummer Duduca da Fonseca update the tradition of the Brazilian jazz trio, romping their way through Lubambo's and Matta's compositions and interpreting additional tunes by Rique Pantoja, Toninho Horta, and Duduca & Chico Adnet.

Carlos Malta: Jeitinho Brasileiro (Brazilian Way) MAL 71004

The hurricane that is Carlos Malta sweeps through choro, maracatu, waltz, samba, frevo, toada, and baião—some composed by himself and some by Pixinguinha, Caetano Veloso, Jackson do Pandeiro, Guinga, Ary Barroso, and Luis Bandeira—all treated in profound and provocative ways.

Juarez Moreira: Bom Dia (Good Morning) MAL 71003

The guitarist/composer mixes the rich pastoral tapestry of his native Minas Gerais with the sophistication of jazz. Featured on several cuts are guitar legend Toninho Horta and saxophonists Paulo Moura and Nivaldo Ornelas.

Ulisses Rocha: Moleque (Child) MAL 71002

Rocha's acoustic guitar, alone or accompanied by electric bass and percussion, improvises on tunes by Tom Jobim, Edu Lobo, Roberto Menescal, and Lulu Santos, as well as introducing the guitarist's own compositions.

Rick Udler and Maria Alvim: Rhythm & Romance MAL 71001

Lovely vocals, guitar, and swinging arrangements that mix samba, bossa nova, and jazz in a tasty brew.

Jovino Santos Neto on Balaio

I met Richard Boukas, my partner in Balaio, through Mike Marshall, with whom I have played several times (we are just beginning a new project dedicated to Hermeto's romantic ballads). He told Boukas about me and vice versa. It turns out that I had met Boukas way back when I played at SOB's in New York with Hermeto, and he had approached me and given me his business card and a score of a tune he wrote for Hermeto.

We met again in 1997, when I came to New York as the musical director of a Native American show, and he gave me all these transcriptions of my own playing in Hermeto's records, which he took directly from the records. Knowing Hermeto's music, you know how hard that can be... We started communicating often, and in a few months he set up a quartet concert for us in Queens. After that he came to Seattle, and we started this bi-coastal collaboration, of which the CD Balaio is a good snapshot.

"As Cores da Menina" (The Girl's Colors)—I wrote this tune way back in 1979; it was one of the first things I composed after starting to play with Hermeto. It used to be called "Sítio Bom" after a beautiful spot on the coast south of Rio where I used to go camping. In 1993 a friend asked me to create some music for a children's theater play, and there was a scene where a girl who used to paint lost her colors, and finally she recovers them, and I thought this theme would work fine. It did, and this tune has since then been a favorite of mine—we play it with my band here in Seattle and also in many other ensembles. When Boukas and I were starting to mix our duo CD, we figured we were still missing a burner, a samba with a lot of energy, so this one popped up. We quickly set up to record and did it in a quick take, and there it is...

"Balaio" (Basket)—One month after I started playing with Hermeto, right around New Year's 1977, I was (again) camping up in the mountains in Mury, and I got a message that I had to return to Rio right away, because Hermeto had decided to invite me to go to the studio in São Paulo and record with him on a soundtrack for the film Trindade. One of the tunes he wrote for that was "Balaio," originally a march. The other tunes we were working on eventually became "Suite Norte a Sul, Leste Oeste" that we recorded on Zabumbê-bum-á. That was my first time ever in a real recording studio, and there were Paulo Braga, Mauro Senise, Cacau, Marcio Montarroyos and all these great cats playing, and I was so green and just loving the whole thing, learning with my eyes and ears wide open. This tune never left me, I just love to introduce it to musicians I meet. Of course, Boukas loved it, too...

"Gajatucada"—A composition by Mr. B. that he showed me when he came here to Seattle for the recording. At first I thought that this tune would not work well as a duo, being so rhythmic, but after doing it and listening to the result, I did enjoy the way it turned out.

"Campinas"—One of the most beautiful ballads ever written, in my opinion. It's really like a journey, the way it unfolds and modulates. In Hermeto's group, playing this tune was a great way to unwind after rehearsing for six hours straight. It was also the vehicle for us to learn how to deal with chord changes, since it has so many unexpected modulations. If you only play clichés and licks, they will not work here. It forces you to be creative as a musician.

"Homeopatia" (Homeopathy)—I wrote this samba in 1996 at the piano at Ronnie Scott's club in London, when I was playing there with Airto and Flora Purim. Every afternoon I would go to the club to practice, and in the back room, Ronnie was playing his alto sax. Every once in a while we would take a break, look at each other and smile... This tune came to me in one of those days. I always thought of it as a vocal tune, even though it has no lyrics. I am glad Boukas sang it; he did a great job on the tricky melody.

"Escuridão da Passagem" (Darkness of Passage)—This piece for me is like Chopin meets Toninho Horta. I specially like the deep harmony Boukas squeezes out of it. It has an almost formal vibe, like an ancient serenata sung to a shy lady behind closed shutters...

"Capricho do Ventos" (Play of the Winds)—Another romantic Boukas piece that draws from the influence that the European composers had on Brazilian sensibility. The piece evolves into a guarânia at certain points, and that keeps it very dynamic.

"Hermeto"—This tune was the title track of Hermeto's first album made in New York in 1970, with strings and a big band. I always wanted to hear it in a more intimate setting, and the duo brought back some of that bossa nova feel from the tune. As with Hermeto's compositions, the harmonic development is so surprising that one never tires of playing the tune, there's always something new to discover.

"Vale da Ribeira" (Valley of Ribeira)—Hermeto wrote this baião at 5 a.m. while we were sitting around a dirt road in the Parque Estadual do Alto Ribeira in southern São Paulo state in 1985, waiting for the sun to come up. It was supposed to be part of a sound track of the film Sinfonia do Alto Ribeira, but it ended up not being used. Sergio Mendes heard it and recorded it in his album Oceano. It has always been a favorite of Hermeto's group in live performances.

"Rosa Cigana" (The Gypsy Rose)—I wrote this valsa brasileira in 1997 to celebrate Pixinguinha's 100th birthday. I thought of his masterpiece "Rosa" as an inspiration. Boukas' voice adds a very special touch to the melody.

"Chorobop"—It is one of my favorite Boukas themes. He really captured the spirit of the choro, and his cavaquinho playing is brilliant here. This is an adaptation of an arrangement he made for the Modern Mandolin Quartet, led at the time by Mike Marshall, a [San Francisco] Bay Area mandolin virtuoso who fell in love with choro. Check out his CD Brasil (Duets) [Earthbeat 71674].

"A Mountain Atop a Mountain"—This theme was written in 1993, as I was getting ready to leave Brazil and move to the U.S. It reminds me of the series of challenges in one's life, how one leads to the next, and how the work of a musician is never really done. It has a sort of circular or canonic form, that spirals up. This song was also recorded by my Quinteto in my new live CD [Ao Vivo em Olympia, Liquid City LQC 34452], with a very different arrangement

Richard Boukas' interview will appear next month in Part 2.

For further information:

Malandro Records:

Jovino Santos Neto:

Richard Boukas:

The writer publishes the online magazine of Brazilian music and culture Daniella Thompson on Brazil and the website Musica Brasiliensis, where she can be contacted.

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