Category Archives: Caetano Veloso

Not the “10 Best” jazz albums of 2016…

…but, rather, here are my favorite albums of 2016. Why the distinction?  I think it’s silly and self-aggrandizing for anyone, however expert their ears, to say “These are the 10 best albums of the year.”  I get that people, myself included, have an insatiable appetite to rank things, perhaps to make the world seem a little more orderly. But music is not science. Its virtues resist quantification.

Many 10-best lists seem to me primarily driven by critical notions of what sounds the most innovative, hence the usual bias toward the avant-garde. That’s fine. But I feel that jazz (and music in general) is not primarily about innovation or progress. It should appeal to the heart as well as the head.

I do prize originality and think jazz should sound new and of its time. But that newness is all about individuality, not some intellectual conceit of progress. A great album or song should sound like the honest expression of no one but this artist.  There’s another practical reason I don’t call these “the best” albums: there are many hundreds of jazz and jazz-related CDs issued every year. Nobody can listen to everything, and I don’t pretend to have heard them all.

The list that follows is an expanded version of the one I supplied to The 2016 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll. The NPR poll showed, by the way, that there is essentially no critical consensus on what the year’s “best” albums were. The album that came in first place, Henry Threadgill’s Old Locks and Irregular Verbs, received  a mere 41 votes out of the 137 critics and journalists polled.

Here are my favorites, the albums I heard this year that moved me on a personal, emotional and intellectual level.  Maybe they will move you, too.

1. Trio Corrente, Vol. 3  (Independent release) – Using Brazilian pop and folkloric building blocks, the Sao Paulo-based trio of Fabio Torres (piano), Paulo Paulelli (bass) and Edu Ribeiro (drums) make joyful music of wild originality with jaw-dropping rhythmic precision. They shared a Grammy award in 2014 with clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera for the album Song for Maura. Still they are my candidate for the best band that almost nobody in the U.S. has heard of. (In the U.S. you can hear their most recent albums on Spotify.)

2. Peter Bernstein – Let Loose (Smoke Sessions) – A great album by one of my favorite guitarists. With fabulous backing by pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Doug Weiss, and drummer Bill Stewart, Bernstein is free to “let loose” like a horn player, and, boy, does he.

3. Gregory Porter – Take Me to the Alley (Blue Note) – The burnished baritone returns with a new batch of originals that take his songwriting to a whole new level.

4.  Bill Charlap – Notes from New York (Impulse) – The new album from the impeccable pianist is a master class in class. I have given only three albums five stars. This is one of them.

5. Tillery (Rebecca Martin, Becca Stevens, Gretchen Parlato) (Larrecca Music) – Tillery combines the talents of three of today’s most interesting singer-songwriters: Becca Stevens, Rebecca Martin, and Gretchen Parlato. On their debut album, the exquisite songs defy easy categorization; maybe that’s why I like them so much.

6. George Coleman – A Master Speaks (Smoke Sessions) — The 80-year-old tenor saxophonist, a NEA Jazz Master and Miles Davis Quintet alumnus, released his first album as a leader in 20 years with an all-star band – and it’s excellent.

7. Snarky Puppy – Family Dinner, Vol. 2  (Decca-Ground Up Records) The jazz-rock-funk collective from Denton, TX is highly popular, and deservedly so.  Led by bassist/arranger Michael League, these guys have big ears for great music from all over the world. Here they are with singer/songwriter Becca Stevens and the Swedish band Väsen, playing a song by Stevens.

8.   Cyrille Aimée – Let’s Get Lost  (Mack Avenue) – A fabulous performance by the French jazz singer with the unforgettable voice.

9.   Fred Hersch – Sunday Night at the Vanguard (Palmetto) – Another brilliant outing by one of the best piano trios in jazz.

10. Jack DeJohnette • Ravi Coltrane • Matthew Garrison — In Movement (ECM) 

11.  Trio da Paz, 30 (Zoho) – Celebrating its 30th anniversary as a trio, the Brazilian expatriate supergroup of guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Nilson Matta and drummer Duduka da Fonseca continues to impress with its unique blend of Brazilian and American jazz.

12.  Roberta Piket, One for Marian (Thirteenth Note Records) 

13.  Catherine Russell – Harlem on My Mind (Jazz Village)

14. David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia)

15.  Caetano Veloso & Gilberto Gil – Dois Amigos (Nonesuch)

My Favorite Reissues or Historical albums:

1) Bill Evans – Some Other Time: The Lost Session from The Black Forest (Resonance Records)

2) The Savory Collection, Vol. 1  (Apple Music)

3) Miles Davis Quintet: Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5 (Columbia/Legacy)

Favorite Vocal Album:

Cyrille Aimée – Let’s Get Lost (Mack Avenue)

Favorite Debut album:

Jacob Collier – In My Room (Membran/Qwest)

Favorite Latin jazz album:

Trio Corrente, Vol. 3. (Independent release)

Honorable mentions:  Joey AlexanderCountdown (Motema); Leslie PintchikTrue North (Pinch Hard); Nels Cline, Lovers (Blue Note); Dave Stryker8 Track II (Strike Zone); Kenny BarronBook of Intuition (Verve) ; John ScofieldCountry for Old Men (Impulse);  Joshua Redman and Brad MehldauNearness (Nonesuch); Ted NashPresidential Suite (Motema); Russell Malone, All About Melody (HighNote)


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Filed under Bill Charlap, Bill Evans, Caetano Veloso, Catherine Russell, Christian McBride, Cyrille Aimée, George Coleman, Gregory Porter, Jacob Collier, Miles Davis, Peter Bernstein, Roberta Piket, Trio Corrente, Trio da Paz

Two giants of Brazilian music, Veloso & Gil, celebrate 50-year friendship in Brooklyn

April 20, 2016 Brooklyn, NY ;  Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil in concert - Two Friends, One Century of Music at BAM's Howard Gilman Opera House on 4/20/2016. Photo ; Rahav Segev/ / BAM

April 20, 2016 Brooklyn, NY ; Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil in concert – Two Friends, One Century of Music at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House on 4/20/2016.
(Photo: Rahav Segev/ / BAM)

The two legends of Brazilian popular music are something akin to poets laureate in Brazil. On April 20-21, they brought their world tour to the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  My review from DownBeat (April 2016).

Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil Celebrate 50-Year Friendship in Brooklyn

When the curtain rose, revealing the two un-prepossessing, silver-haired gentlemen seated center-stage and already strumming their acoustic guitars, the audience, a roughly equal mix of Americans and Brazilians spanning all age groups, shouted in recognition, not unlike the way one might greet old friends at a class reunion.

In Brazil, they are known by the single names “Caetano” and “Gil.” Beyond pop stars, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, who have been friends since they met in 1963, are something akin to poets laureate in Brazil. This was the second night (April 21) of their two-night New York stand at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM) Gilman Opera House, the latest stop on a joint world tour in which they played 44 concerts in 21 countries and 35 cities, including U.S. stops in Los Angeles, Oakland, and Miami. The BAM concerts had been sold out for weeks.

The legendary Bahia natives, both 73, played 30 songs over two hours, making the ornate, high-domed opera house as intimate as their own living rooms. Over the course of the evening, they covered much of their 50-year careers in a show entitled, “Dois Amigos, Um Século de Música (Two Friends, A Century of Music).”

For much of that era, their careers have intertwined. Leaders of Tropicália, a late-1960s movement that was both musical and political, each man has reflected and influenced the course of Brazilian society ever since. They began with sambas and bossa nova, then influenced by Dylan, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, among others, their music became impressionistic, sometimes even psychedelic. Their songs were often spiked with social commentary and rebellion against both the repressive authoritarian regime that ruled Brazil and the moral strictures of the country’s buttoned-up Catholic culture. It landed them in jail for a short time, followed by political exile in England, where they continued to write and record. When they were finally permitted to return to Brazil in 1972, they were bigger than ever.

Caetano’s style is hard to describe and has no real analogue in America; imagine a cross between Dylan, Jacques Brel and Pablo Neruda, and you’d be roughly in the right ballpark. His lyrics are by turns political, sensual, and metaphysical. Gil’s music is both traditional and modern, combining regional, folkloric and urban styles of Brazil with American blues, pop, rock and roll, and later pan-African and Caribbean motifs. Caetano is more the sweet-voiced intellectual, Gil the earthy, multi-cultural, spiritual heart of Brazil. Their styles complement and reinforce each other.

Although Brazil is currently in political turmoil once again, the artists offered no commentary on the pending impeachment of the current left-leaning president, Dilma Rousseff, preferring instead to let their songs do the talking.

Throughout the evening they alternated duets with solo performances, during which the other sat at rapt attention; sometimes Gil would tap out the rhythm to a Caetano song lightly on his guitar. They began with a duet of Gil’s “Back in Bahia,” one of his first hit singles upon returning from exile, the original electric boogie refined down to an appealing acoustic blues.

The first half of the evening emphasized Caetano’s songbook, including “Sampa,” (a nickname for Sao Paulo) and “Tropicália,” the song that gave the movement its name. On Caetano’s “Coração Vagabundo (Vagabond Heart),” one of his biggest hits, the audience seemed thrilled to hear Gil’s voice singing the first verse instead of Caetano’s more delicate tenor. By the end of “Terra (Earth),” one of Caetano’s most transcendent songs (inspired by the first photos of the earth from space), he led an audience sing-along on the final chorus, which translates roughly to “Earth, earth / However distant / The wandering navigator / Who could ever forget you?”

For the delightful, slightly naughty Ary Barroso samba “É Luxo Só,” a male appreciation of a Brazilian girl dancing the samba (and one of the few selections not written by the artists), Caetano put down his guitar, stood up and shimmied, over Gil’s samba guitar intro, much to the audience’s delight. Caetano’s London exile song, “Nine Out of Ten,” was sung in English; he also sang moving love songs in Italian and Spanish.

On the Gil masterpiece, “Eu Vim Da Bahia (I Came From Bahia),” Gil and Caetano traded verses over Gil’s subtle, brilliant guitar accompaniment. On this tune and others, Gil truly was a one-man samba band. Other highlights of the Gil songbook were his hits, “Expresso 2222” (named after a train), “Andar Com Fe (Walk With Faith)” and the haunting, virtuosic “Tres Palavras (Three Words).”

For an encore, the pair sang a duet of Caetano’s “Desde Que O Samba E Samba (From Samba Comes Samba),” one of the loveliest songs ever to come out of Brazil. Four more encores followed. The final one was Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” with its refrain, “Don’t worry about a thing / ’Cause every little thing is gonna be alright,” inspiring many audience members to sing along. The soothing message, perhaps an oblique reference to the current political tumult in both Brazil and America, echoed over the crowd like a benediction.
An album of essentially the same concert, also titled Dois Amigos, Um Século de Música, was released in the U.S. in April by Nonesuch.


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Filed under Brazilian music, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Music Writing and Clips