A good deal of what Paquito knows about Brazilian forms he learned during a six month stint in the band of Gaudencio Thiago de Mello. While probably not a household name among jazzreview.com readers--indeed, a Rio newspaper, the Tribuna da Imprensa, refers to Thiago as "one of the best kept secrets in both the Jazz and Brazilian contemporary scenes"--the composer and percussionist is something of a musician's musician. He has worked with, or had his compositions performed by Gil Evans, Paul Winter, Sharon Isbin, Paquito d'Rivera, Cláudio Roditi, Carlos Barbosa Lima, Tibério Nascimento, Richard Kimball, Oscar Castro-Neves and many others, during a career that spans decades, beginning in the Brazilian Amazon and continuing in New York where he arrived as an immigrant in 1966.
Listening to this recording one might label it as bossa nova, and it does have the feeling of that best known of Brazilian genres, its easy melodic flow, its harmonic and rhythmic subtleties. Yet Thiago de Mello is at pains to point out that there are different styles of music in all the various regions of Brazil, and that he absorbed many of them while living in many parts of the country, not to mention the jazz influences assimilated during his 40+ years in New York. That being said, many listeners might take these compositions--all of them Thiago originals--to be by Jobim or Bonfa, and indeed, many of them can stand comparison with the work of these other Brazilian masters. In fact, this recording is very much about the compositions.
This is not your average, head-plus-solos jazz date. There is room for improvisation, but as Thiago told me, he wanted to create something melodic and romantic. With this in mind, the performers take care to respect the melody throughout. Among them, the primary voice belongs to clarinetist Dexter Payne. Having met Thiago during a visit to Brazil, Payne became a close friend of the composer, whom he refers to as his "big brother." They became collaborators when Payne came to New York from his home in Boulder Colorado to participate in a session that yielded this and a previous recording, Another Feeling, issued in 2006. While the full range of woodwinds are found in Brazilian music, the clarinet is not the one most associated with it by American listeners. Yet in Payne's hands it works perfectly, and his sensitivity to the composer's esthetic is essential to the success of the project, helping to create something between American jazz and Brazilian popular music. Equally essential is the piano work, shared between three performers, and the unique approach to what he calls "organic" percussion taken by Thiago. This refers both to the material from which he constructs his own instruments, and the equally unique approach he takes to rhythm and coloration that allows him to contribute to the rubato sections as well as to the passages of structured meter. For a brief moment, during Interlude Thiago steps up and reveals the underlying rhythmic concept which is also the sub-title to this CD. According to the notes, "Disk Tum Derrei is an imitation Thiago performs, vocally, of the Brazilian surdo sound, as played by Escolas de Samba in Brazil. Chorando & sambando are terms related to two of the main genres of Brazilian music: choro and samba."
This is an interesting and enjoyable recording, one which should be explored both by those who appreciate Brazilian music and those who would like to know more about it. It is part of a large discography which can be explored at thiago-amazon.com, where one can also read his extraordinary biography (He started out as a successful soccer coach! Soccer and music--the essence of Brazil!) Having recently celebrated his 76th birthday it is time Thiago de Mello became an overnight success!