Vertical starts out with "Some Days," a light-hearted fast samba featuring fluffy flute and romantic guitar. Not a big surprise; guitarist Sandro Albert was born in Brazil and singer Milton Nascimento is a major influence. But as the session proceeds, though Albert remains in South America, he's not always on Rio's sunny beach. Turns out Heitor Villa Lobos was another major influence, and this album owes as much to that classical composer as to Nascimento or Antonio Carlos Jobim. Track six is "Obrigado (Thank You) Villa," and Vertical is more about harmony and structure than popular Brazilian rhythms--about intellect as much as sensuality.
The musicianship is outstanding. All go along with the game plan which includes subtle lyricism, instrumental interplay, and rhythms often far removed from lilting sambas. The title track epitomizes the vibe. The chord changes challenge, the rhythm is irregular, and the arrangement relies heavily on "counterpoint," not quite in its usual sense, but in what Albert describes as the way the instruments "play off each other and weave from top to bottom." That "top to bottom" is what he means by "vertical."
(In the song dedicated to Villa Lobos, Albert does use counterpoint as more strictly defined: guitar, flute and bass have separate, complementary melodic lines.)
If all this sounds overly intellectual, it is if you're looking for "quiet nights of quiet stars, quiet chords from my guitar." (Thank you, Mr. Jobim.) Vertical instead rewards close attention and multiple listens. The melodies grow more appealing the more you hear them, and the harmonic progressions more satisfying; the amazingly delicate and precise interplay of the four instruments is apparent on first hearing. But you may never adjust to the rhythm changes that are especially noticeable in Albert's up-tempo tunes. They are the main reason the vibe is different from most Brazilian jazz albums. Statements of the melody have a start-and-stop feel rather than an even, swinging flow.
All the tunes were written by Albert. There's a good mix of tempos and moods. The full quartet has 11 tracks. The flute drops out on "My Little Girl's Lullaby," a pretty ballad, and "Take Your Pick" is a short medium-tempo piece for solo guitar.
Vertical will disappoint most Carnival goers. Musicians will dig it out of the gate. This is the thinking man's Brazil.