Thursday, July 17, 2008
"Brazilian Butterfly" review - "All Music Guide"
Review about Ithamara Koorax’s “Brazilian Butterfly” posted on All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com), regarded as the most important music website in the world. Reviewed by Thom Jurek.
“Musically, this is the showcase for Koorax's voice that fans have been waiting for, and it awaits a wider audience who need only to hear this once to be enthralled and entranced by its sophistication and heart. She is a diverse, adventurous, and utterly gifted vocalist who cannot be reined in by the stereotypical categorization of what the current generation calls a "female jazz singer." The production and sound quality of this disc are simply gorgeous… better than any vocal record issued in 2007. But the real treasure here — and one that unfortunately not many Americans have had the real pleasure of encountering — is her voice. Her confidence is legion… On Brazilian Butterfly, Koorax has set a new bar for jazz vocalists who come after her. As she does, they will need to embody many traditions and musical histories, root them in the tradition, and be able to comfortably combine as well improvise seamlessly with and between them. Thus far, Brazilian Butterfly is the jewel in Koorax's crown and a watermark in the 21st century, not only for Brazilian jazz, but for jazz and world music as a whole.”
Direct link for the complete review:
AMG, Brazilian Butterfly review by jazz historian Thom Jurek
by Thom Jurek
It took three long years to record Brazilian Butterfly, by Rio de Janeiro vocalist Ithamara Koorax. It was worth the wait. A look at the cast on this enigmatic set reveals a cast of all-stars. That said, the treasure is bittersweet on at least one level. Three of Brazil's greatest musicians — and integral parts of this album — all passed away after these sessions were recorded: the inimitable drummer and percussionist Dom Um Romão, bassist Manuel Gusmão, and percussionist Eloir de Moraes. The core band on most of these sides includes Romão, electric pianist and keyboardist Paula Faour, and other electric bassist Jorge Pescara and/or acoustic and arco bassist Gusmão. That said, there are a slew of guests on the record as well, including Azymuth, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Ron Carter, Nelson Ângelo, Raul de Souza, Thiago de Mello, José Carlos "Bigorna" Ramos, the Francesco Gazzara Group on one cut, and numerous others. Produced by Arnaldo DeSouteiro, who also did many of the album's arrangements and played percussion on some tracks, the set was recorded live in Brazil with the exception of "Butterfly," which was cut in Italy with Gazzara's group. According to DeSouteiro, Dom Um Romão did the only overdubs, layering percussion on the tracks where he also played drums, and on the title track where Koorax fronted Gazzara's band in Italy.
Musically, this is the showcase for Koorax's voice that fans have been waiting for, and it awaits a wider audience who need only to hear this once to be enthralled and entranced by its sophistication and heart. She is a diverse, adventurous, and utterly gifted vocalist who cannot be reined in by the stereotypical categorization of what the current generation calls a "female jazz singer." Here she digs deep into Brazilian and Latin and even African and Cuban folk forms, modern and classic samba, electric jazz, vocalese, and more — anything to allow the song itself to come through.
Does that make Brazilian Butterfly a fusion record? Yes, but not any kind of fusion outing you've ever heard. People who need categories will call this "world fusion". But in truth, this set creates something new and should perhaps be called "organic jazz fusion", or "new Brazil." There are so many elements woven into a tapestry so colorful, so brilliantly melodic, harmonically adventurous and multi-textured, it cannot be contained in any preset box. That said it has a very classic feel to it. One can hear traces of the early CTI sound here, but that is in the elegance, grace, and soulfulness of the grooves rather than in the musical style, for which there is no equivalent.
The production and sound quality of this disc are simply gorgeous. From the opening track, the mysterious ambience that is Dorival Caymmi's "O Vento" beckons. Ramos' flute and Romão's shimmering cymbals introduce it, along with percussion by DeSouteiro and de Moraes; the listener can hear the spacious tantalizing strangeness in this mix. Koorax begins singing languidly, as if from a distance, seamlessly bridging the instruments and creating certain lushness even before the rest of the band enters. Over eight minutes in length, there are fine solos by Faour and Ramos before Koorax and Romão trade up call-and-response vocal improvisation. (Romão is not a singer, but he was such a genius that his voice was as skilled a percussive instrument as his hands and feet.) Koorax engages him in this solo and even gets guttural; it is startling and entrancing, and could have gone on for another five minutes it's so inventive.
It is followed by "Escravos de Jó," with de Moraes doing his own vocal improvisation and rap as Koorax digs deep into a modally constructed, almost droning samba melody. Carlos Fuchs adds his acoustic piano to the electric one by Faour, and the layered percussion by Koorax, de Moraes, Romão, and DeSouteiro give it an almost hallucinatory feel.
The funky bassline and hi hat work with de Souza's trombone on Romão's "Amor em Jacumã" makes it an utterly contemporary and forward-looking jazz tune. Here is where DeSouteiro evokes the beautiful arrangements of the early CTI groove tunes. Rubalcaba's taut piano solo offers a knotty and funky groove even in counterpoint with the bassline and Ângelo's shimmering, acoustic guitar work as Romão lays down breaks against a spacious yet kinetic four-piece percussion section! Koorax's voice rises and glides above that intimidating group with ease. Her voice is as rhythmic as Romão's kit. She phrases to suit the song: her chameleon-like quality is what gives her a unique identity. She doesn't play the fragile beauty on these tracks, she gets into the vamps and grooves as much as the players do: check her wailing soprano solo near the end of this cut for evidence of her ability to solo with any instrumentalist. The band pushes a steady, funky, airy, Latin-cum-samba groove behind her.
Each track on Brazilian Butterfly uncovers a new mystery, reveals a hidden treasure, proving, of course, that Koorax is virtually limitless in her abilities. The interplay between Romão and Faour's keyboards and Pescara's bass on "Lamento Negro" puts it all in high gear. Romão gives voice to his approval and Koorax is so heavy and deep in the cut that she's downright funky, but Brazilian funky, which means of course that it isn't only about chop, it's about chops in the song.
Her reading of Herbie Hancock's "Butterfly" is a completely new interpretation. Arranged by and co-produced by Gazzara in Italy, his utterly haunting nylon string guitar and Rhodes and acoustic piano work present this beautiful jazz tune in an almost ethereal way. His manner of adorning Koorax's voice is not as strident as what is heard on the rest of the recording, but that said it serves a wonderful purpose in showcasing her voice in a context she is very familiar with as a wonderful singer of ballads. The Italian, Spanish, and soul touches he and his band play underneath her interpreting of those lyrics allows her to inhabit the song fully and, perhaps even Hancock would agree, make it her own. This is only the first half of the recording and it's already better than any vocal record issued in 2007.
The latter half is the same wondrous, seamless, classy yet gritty amalgam of seemingly disparate elements that work marvelously as a whole: there are fine solos by many performers on this set, as Koorax and DeSouteiro allow plenty of room for improvisation as long as it fits the songs like a glove. But the real treasure here — and one that unfortunately not many Americans have had the real pleasure of encountering — is her voice. Her confidence is legion. If all you ever heard from this disc was Geraldo Vandré's "Fica Mal com Deus," with its driving rhythms and her voice punching right through them to add yet another layer to them, you'd be left dumbstruck. The song is outstanding.
Her chant-like vocal, which introduces "Noite de Temporal," another of the three tunes here by Caymmi, offers more of that "world music" vibe to the mix, but in the best possible manner: the fretless and arco basses playing off one another, the tribal drums and double percussion of DeSouteiro and Sidinho Moreira in the extended intro are deceptive, because as Faour's keyboards enter, this sounds like an ancient song being brought into the new world, Killer reggae piano, funk electric bass, bowed classical folk lines, and Koorax's voice coming out of the ether of antiquity and into the flesh in the present is worth the price of admission alone.
The album's final track, "Frenético," is very special since it is a duet. Koorax and de Moraes engage in a work of pure improvisation with only their voices and percussion instruments. De Moraes does his own awesome and effective take on scat as Koorax uses her voice as an effect, a percussion instrument with chatters, skitters, swoops, and washes of guttural onomatopoeia. It's almost nine minutes long and goes by in a flash; it's a hell of a way to close what is already her greatest recording, stamping it so individually it becomes almost iconoclastic. It cannot be touched.
On Brazilian Butterfly, Koorax has set a new bar for jazz vocalists who come after her. As she does, they will need to embody many traditions and musical histories, root them in the tradition, and be able to comfortably combine as well improvise seamlessly with and between them. Thus far, Brazilian Butterfly is the jewel in Koorax's crown and a watermark in the 21st century, not only for Brazilian jazz, but for jazz and world music as a whole.