Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Reunion Project - Varanda (TAPESTRY / CAPRI RECORDS 2017)

Five masters of Brazilian jazz bridge years and styles to form 
The Reunion Project

Lifelong friends Felipe Salles, Chico Pinheiro, Tiago Costa and Edu Ribeiro, along with rising star Bruno Migotto, offer a modern spin on their jazz and Brazilian music influences on Varanda

The bonds forged during our formative years can be some of the strongest and most enduring throughout the rest of our lives, no matter where our paths might take us. Saxophonist Felipe Salles, guitarist Chico Pinheiro, pianist Tiago Costa and drummer Edu Ribeiro came of age in São Paulo listening to a unique blend of jazz and Brazilian music that shaped each of them as they’ve embarked on notable but diverging careers in music. 20 years on, all four come together for the first time and, joined by young lion bassist Bruno Migotto, form The Reunion Project. The quintet’s debut, Varanda, reflects the eclectic roots and youthful camaraderie of its members, deepened and honed by the maturity gleaned from two-plus decades of study and experience.

On Varanda (due out February 17 on Capri Records), these five Brazilian virtuosos explore the far-reaching crossroads of modern jazz and Brazilian music through nine original compositions and the aptly-chosen standard “Yesterdays,” which, in Costa’s tropically lush arrangement, puts the group’s unique spin on a familiar tune while expressing the warm nostalgia of the group’s reunion.

“We all share a common background, have the same early influences and figured out who we wanted to be as musicians around the same time,” Salles says. “From sitting in a room in college listening to music together to so many years later having established ourselves in the field, it’s quite a nice thing to come back and reunite on the other side of the spectrum from where you started.”

Salles and Pinheiro share the longest relationship, dating back “to day care, pretty much,” according to the saxophonist. The two spent countless hours listening to fusion-era jazz giants like Weather Report, the Yellowjackets, and Pat Metheny, alongside Brazilian icons like Elis Regina, Milton Nascimento and Hermeto Pascoal. The frequent convergences of the time, like the Wayne Shorter/Milton Nascimento collaboration Native Dancer, were particularly thrilling to their ravenous young ears.

While Pinheiro pursued a short-lived (thankfully, given his now well-known musical gifts) interest in physics, Salles went on to study music at São Paulo’s University of Campinas (Unicamp), where he met both Costa and Ribeiro, forming a similarly music-focused friendship with the pianist and drummer. “The first actual gigs that I ever played were with those guys,” Salles recalls. “We’d get a gig at a nearby bar and we’d transcribe all our favorite hits from the current jazz bands of the time and try to play them. There was some pretty complex stuff happening at that time, and we were trying to learn from it.”

Salles left Brazil at age 22 to complete his studies at Boston’s New England Conservatory. Refocusing his attention from the subatomic to the sonic world, Pinheiro followed not long after, arriving in the same city to attend Berklee College of Music. Both established acclaimed careers in the States: Salles has played with the likes of Randy Brecker, David Liebman, Lionel Loueke and Sam Rivers in addition to his role as Associate Professor at of Jazz and African-American Music Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst; Pinheiro has worked with Brad Mehldau, Bob Mintzer, Esperanza Spalding, Ivan Lins and Dori Caymmi, continuing to bridge his jazz and Brazilian influences.

Meanwhile, Costa and Ribeiro have become equally prominent on the Brazilian music scene. Costa has enjoyed a long tenure as pianist, arranger and producer for two-time Latin Grammy-winning vocalist Maria Rita as well as co-leading the ensemble Vento em Madeira and serving as arranger for Orquestra Jazz Sinfônica. Ribeiro has won a pair of Latin Grammys as a member of Trio Corrente with whom he’s recorded three albums, including a collaboration with saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera; he’s also worked with Mike Stern, Maria Schneider, Anthony Wilson and New York Voices, among others. Though younger than his bandmates, Migotto has played with most of the major names in Brazilian music, from Claudio Roditi to Wilson das Neves, as well as collaborating with Pinheiro and Costa, which Salles says made him the perfect fit for the project.

Despite the intervening years, miles and diversity of experiences, Salles says the group easily rediscovered their natural chemistry upon reuniting last year. “The interesting thing for me was that the essence of who they were is still the same, but the level of maturity and accomplishment is much greater. I wondered if we would feel the same familiarity as we did 20-something years ago, but when we’re playing it’s like they can know what I’m going to do before I’m going to do it. It has a lot to do with our musical choices, but it also has to do with knowing each other so well, the fact that we all speak Portuguese together, our demeanors and cadences of speech. There’s a depth in the way we know each other that’s unexplainable but that translates into the music.”

Each member of the band brought in new compositions for the session, all written with these particular players in mind. Costa and Pinheiro worked together on the title tune, a modern spin on the traditional Brazilian choro with a romantic classical twist that calls to mind Gershwin or Villa-Lobos. “We wanted to do music that would be rooted in Brazilian music, obviously, but where you can hear everybody’s different personality,” Salles explains. “I’ve always thought of Brazilian music as an evolving thing. I don’t like to be a purist. The idea was to use our Brazilian influences as the common core, but then everybody would bring their own personal style, thinking of this as a modern approach to Brazilian jazz.”

It’s obvious from listening to Varanda that these artists share a chemistry that goes beyond the purely musical. “You get together with your friends from childhood and you crack the same jokes, you still have that same level of comfort that you did as a kid,” Salles says of the reunion. “We were sitting in a van going from gig to gig and it as like I was back in high school with those guys. Then the subject would change and we’d be talking about our kids, which is such a crazy, deep thing. Shockingly, that depth translated to the music. “