Brazilian Voyage indeed hits some breezy, swaying Brazilian highlights, but there are stops in Germany, New York and, perhaps, Kentucky. Even the samba-like tracks are more worldly than usual. Brazil's most famous classical composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos, is represented by "Trenzinho Do Caipira." It's from his collection Bachianas Brasileiras, which honored the musical style of Bach.
All of this could have turned out to be overly intellectual. It didn't. Villa-Lobos' noisy depiction of a little country-train is turned into a happy, relaxed bossa nova, and the album is a delight from start to finish. The group cooks like crazy on several tracks, insinuates sensually on others, and turns romantically sentimental on the ballads.
Harry Allen, who usually sounds like the lyrical and loping Zoot Sims, here does a Stan Getz imitation that had me believing in reincarnation. He nails the tone and, unlike others who can do that, he has consistency, chops and imagination that rival the original. I wish he'd been on more than four of the nine tracks, but I can't fault the rest of the crew, and the variation in group size and instrumentation contribute to a jazz mix that's a perfect candidate for Starbucks.
Most of the tracks feature samba or related lighter bossa-nova rhythms, but Matta has been in the U.S. for 25 years now and often blends American Jazz into his Rio cocktails. That's clear from the opening original, "Baden". After a brief bass intro, Klaus Mueller's mainstream style takes over with confidence and precision that show classical training. As if to prove the point, the piece nears a climax when Mueller drives the notes of a Bach toccata, a perfect setup for the Villa Lobos piece which follows and adds tenor sax, flute and Latin percussion to the piano trio of the opening track.
Easily the most unusual cut is Matta's "Pantanal", a bass solo, the leader's only indulgence. The tune is meant to "evoke the delta wetlands in the middle of South America," but its blue-grass harmonies are the ones that made me think Kentucky. That brief excursion is followed by the title track "Copacabana", the best of the Matta originals. It's a lilting bossa-nova featuring Allen at his most Getz-like. Matta's switch to guitar adds to the warm-breeze vibe.
"Saci Pererê," a trio version of another of Matta's fine Brazilian-flavored originals, replaces drums with swinging Latin percussion. Then it's back to the standard piano trio with Allen added and taking the lead on his own lovely tune, "I Can See Forever." The South American-tinged arrangement, is more New York than Rio, and so is Allen's thoughtful solo.
Matta wraps things up with a quintet that turns the mainline over to the capable Anne Drummond, a young New York flutist who fits right in with her somewhat more experienced band mates. As I said, "a delight from start to finish," and highly recommended, especially for fans of the Brazilian vibe.