Victor Assis Brasil, Pedrinho

Is it John Coltrane (for some reason playing here the alto sax), with McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums)? No: it’s Victor Assis Brasil (as), with Jota Moraes (p), Paulo Russo (b) and Ted Moore (d). The comparison is not, I think, wholly unwarranted. I have been listening to this record for thirty-five years already, and it still amazes me: it is clearly one of the greatest Brazilian jazz recordings ever. There wasn’t any jazz musician in Brazil as towering a figure as Victor. His phrasing is ambitious, daring, well-developed, large-scale; his articulation is exceedingly sharp and clear. Harmonic freedom and space for modulation is always generous. He could draw musical phrases of the utmost elegance, class and equilibrium, just as well as he could decompose his utterances into a myriad fractured, scattered sonic debris. His playing could be either smooth and fluid or steep and angular.

He always inspired the other musicians to give beyond the best of themselves. The recordings he has made along a remarkable, tragically short career (he died at age 35) provide ample evidence for this. Along the seven tracks of Pedrinho (vinyl LP, Odeon, 1981 — all of them available on Youtube), Moraes, Russo and Moore keep an impeccable groove all the time. Their improvisations are inspired, succinct, and elegant (Moraes sometimes makes one indeed think of McCoy Tyner). Changes of tempo and time signature are always seamless and convincing (listen, e.g. to “Night and Day” for an absolutely amazing example). The approach towards standards, both Brazilian (Caymmi’s “O cantador” and Milton Nascimento’s “Nada será como antes”) and North American (Cole Porter’s “It’s all right with me” and “Night and day”, as well as the Gershwins’ “S’wonderful”) is respectful yet inquisitive. Among Victor’s own compositions, the title track provides ample space for lyricism, while “Penedo” allows the most free, long-range, breathtaking improvisations of the whole record.

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