Feb 9, 2013
It’s Carnival time in Brazil! Rio is the epicenter of an earthquake of a festival that shakes the South American continent from February 9 to February 12.
The roots of Carnival trace back to the ancient Romans and Greeks who celebrated the rites of spring. Across Europe, including France, Spain and Portugal, people annually gave thanks by throwing parties, wearing masks and dancing in the streets. Such traditions were carried over to the New World.
The Portuguese first brought the concept of "celebration or carnival" to Rio around 1850. The practice of holding balls and masquerade parties was imported by the city’s bourgeoisie from Paris. However, in Brazil, the traditions soon became different. Over time, they acquired unique elements deriving from African and Amerindian cultures.
Groups of people would parade through the streets playing music and dancing. It was usual that during Carnival aristocrats would dress up as commoners, men would cross-dress as women and the poor dress up as princes and princesses - social roles and class differences were expected to be forgotten once a year but only for the duration of the festival.
One of my favorite Brazilian bass players, Nilson Matta (check out Podcast 298 with Duduka DaFonseca to hear the drummer sing his praises) has taken time out from his work with Trio de Paz and the Brazilian Trio, and his “Samba to Jazz” workshops to release Nilson Matta’s Black Orpheus, available next week on Motema Music. A jazz-flavored reimagining of both the play Orpheus de Conceicao and film Black Orpheus, Matta gathered an all-star cast of players in Rio to give this classic music a slightly more modern feel. Players like Anat Cohen, Randy Brecker and Kenny Barron all have deep Brazilian musical roots that add to the authenticity of the sound.
Rather than rely on past sounds, these versions of some well-known tunes have some exciting new arrangements, courtesy of Matta, and pianists Barron and Klaus Mueller. Backed by a large percussion section led by Alex Kauz and guitarist Guilherme Monteiro, there is a sway and swing to the project that is very satisfying.
Special note should be paid to Gretchen Parlato’s vocal on “Valsa de Euridice”, a less-heard work by Vincius de Moraes’ theatrical presentation. A new composition by Matta, “Hugs and Kisses”, provides the recording in a jamming, dancing finale worthy of Carnival.