A Beautiful Horizon for Jazz in 2015
By Roberto Muggiati
Never mind the Crisis: 2015 has been a great year for jazz festivals in Brasil, I can assure you: I have written in Curitiba in English about my wanderings at Jurerê Jazz, Santa Catarina, in May. A few days later I was invited for the mammoth three-day festival Bourbon Street/Paraty but could not attend it. From the 7th to the 9th of July, I was at the Savassi Festival, in Belo Horizonte, and also received an invitation for the Porto Alegre festival on October’s second weekend. Meanwhile, on the 20th of August, I shall be in Rio das Ostras – in the state of Rio de Janeiro – for the sixth edition of its Jazz & Blues Festival with stars such as trumpetist Roy Hargrove, guitarist Robben Ford and drummer Omar Hakim.
I was met at Confins Airport – an adequate name, it means “outskirts”, “boundaries” – by youthful producer Camila Bahia Braga, who took me in her car to Belo Horizonte. We talked about cats and dogs and she told me a funny story about a cockatiel (“calopsita” in Portuguese) called Apollo who fell in love with a relative of hers – and vice-versa – and then one day simply vanished. It is at best a one-hour trip from Confins to Belo Horizonte, but with Camila time flew swiftly. After checking in at the hotel and organizing things around my room, I went out for a light meal, walked to a nearby Carrefour market for a bottle of Scotch and came back to prepare myself for the night’s programme, a debate at Sesc Palladium around my 1999 book New Jazz: Back to the Future. It was the first of a series named Palco Biblioteca hosted by Josenberg Mendes Rodrigues. I sat under the lights on the stage of a cozy auditorium with the congenial company of Savassi Festival general coordinator Bruno Golgher and pianist-composer Rafael Martini. There were many questions from the public, such as “What is jazz?” “Where is jazz heading to?” If it is heading anywhere . . . . I tried to call attention to the resilience of jazz through my very surreal condition: a Brazilian “jazz critic” – with five books published about the subject – in a large city like Belo Horizonte and telling the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, about an Afro-American genre of music born more than a hundred years ago in New Orleans which took the world by storm and became one of the 20th century’s iconic forms of art.
Crossing the century and the millennium, jazz has become a trademark of high intellectual prestige. It has also become some sort of franchise – like C&A, McDonald’s or Starbucks – just imagine the hundreds of festivals around the world. Ever heard of the Guaramiranga Jazz & Blues Festival, at the altitude of 865 meters on the Baturité Range, in Ceará? Or the Nhundiaquara Jazz Festival, in Morretes, Paraná? Watch also for the globalized aspects of jazz. In Jurerê, I heard Swedish guitar wizard Ulf Wakenius playing a tribute to Wes Montgomery with an organ trio completed by Roman keyboardist Leonard Corradi and Parisian drummer Tony Match. In a brief solo dedicated to Brazil, Ulf played a medley of Milton Nascimento’s Ponta de Areia, Egberto Gismonti’s Lôro and Ary Barroso’s Aquarela do Brasil. If you wish to go deeper into global jazz, just watch Wakenius at You Tube on acoustic guitar playing Gismonti’s Frevo with Korean singer Youn Sun Nah at the Sofia Festival, in Bulgaria. By the way, Youn Sun Nah has been living for the past ten years in Seoul and Paris, where she was decorated Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres.
So much for jazz talk, let us go into the music. Our debate at Sesc Palladium was preceded and followed by a show by the Pamelli Marafon Trio – Pam at the keyboards, her husband Tabajara Belo on guitar and bassist João Paulo Avelar, a well-rounded power trio that played not only original compositions but things such as a marvelous adaptation of Take Five. The next night, my second and last in Belo Horizonte, reserved for me one of the festival’s highlights, the presentation of João Bosco’s Jazz Project. I used the remains of the day to stroll around Belo Horizonte; in the morning I walked along the city’s chic quarter of Savassi with its posh boutiques and bumped into a life-size bronze statue of writer Roberto Drummond (who used to love jazz); in the afternoon I went to the Arts & Crafts Museum, an important memorial of 19th century professions beautifully displayed at the old Central Railway Station. Back to the hotel, it was time for a masochistic ritual: the TV was showing a replay of 2014 Soccer World Cup match Germany 7 x 1 Brazil, which had taken place right there one year before at Belo Horizonte’s Mineirão Stadium. I watched with love and squalor the sequence of Germany’s first four goals in less than ten minutes. And that was that, a scenario symbolic of Brazil’s social and political nightmare we are living right now.
I arrived early at Bradesco Theatre, tucked inside the fashionable Minas Tennis Club. As a guest of honor, I was supposed to have at least a seat for the show, but I was given instead a wristband which entitled me to roam about the dark spaces of backstage. Some people passed about eyeing me suspiciously as if I were a bomber from an Islamic Army. One hour later, at the nick of time, I was shoved into the luxurious theatre and found one of the last chairs. It was worth all the Hitchcockian suspense. João Bosco with his acoustic guitar, roosted on a high bench, ruled over a compact jazz group: Ademir Junior (sax, clarinet), José Arimatea (trumpet, fluegelhorn), Rafael Rocha (trombone), Alexandre Carvalho (guitar), Jefferson Lescowich (bass) and Jimmy Duchowny (drums). A marvelous mix of MPB, bossa nova and jazz: Jobim’s Água de Beber, Miles Davis’ Blue in Green entailed with Bosco’s Transversal do Tempo; an unpredictable scat version of My Favorite Things by Bosco; the Italian classic Estate, with imprints of João Gilberto and Chet Baker; Angela and Varadero, a song João composed in Cuba in a festival where – as he humorously told – the Jamaicans were kings, less by their music, but by their huge manga–rosa cigars … .
I felt sorry for two things I missed in Belo Horizonte. While seven gorgeous girls were singing away their tribute to Billie Holiday at the Patio Savassi Amphitheatre (for a small crowd of a hundred people and four hundred more outside watching the show projected in a widescreen), I was engaged in explaining the inner works of jazz at Sesc Palladium. The other “lament” (name of a J.J. Johnson beautiful composition) was that I left BH on the 9th of July and could not be present that night at the show of Nivaldo Ornelas’ Jazz Mineiro Orchestra, a modern big band in the Gil Evans style incorporating musical roots from Minas Gerais, such as the “congado”. It was a pity that I could not meet again my old friend and wonderful tenor sax player Nivaldo. Every time I meet him I tease: “Man, remember where we first met?” And I chop up immediately: “In Dakar, suffering from a Senegalesque heatwave.” We were together on the plane that took the Hermeto Pascoal band to the 1979 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
I leave you with a footnote about the growing presence of jazz, here, there and everywhere: when I landed in Rio, I met at the airport saxophonist Mauro Senise and pianist Gilson Peranzzetta with their wives Ana Luisa and Eliana. They were on their way to the first edition of the Iguape Jazz and Blues Festival, in São Paulo. Jazz. Iguape. Rio das Ostras. Guaramiranga. Jurerê. Nhundiaquara. Who could ask for anything more?
Roberto Muggiati is a regular contributor to CIE. He is a musician who writes about music for numerous newspapers and magazines in Brazil.