The Portuguese word roda translates as "wheel," but it is also refers to a circle around which musicians play and dancers dance. On his latest Brazilian-jazz release, Roda Carioca (Rio Circle), pianist Jovino Santos Neto embraces this term on many levels. Santos Neto, who has recently appeared on Liquid City releases, featuring Seattle-based ensembles his last Canto de Rio (2003), nominated for a Latin Grammy award calls upon a handful of standout guest players such as Hermeto and Fabio Pascoal, Hamilton de Holanda, Joyce, Marcos Amorim and Gabriel Grossi. Undoubtedly, with this expanded circle of Brazilian friends, Neto’s musical ambitions are realized on Roda Carioca. As Santos Neto reveals in the liner notes, this project was especially rewarding because it was his first opportunity to record in his hometown, Rio de Janeiro.
Newcomers to the Latin jazz piano scene will discover that Roda, in many respects, is stylistically on par with Danilo Perez’s recent release, Motherland. Both include wonderful musicianship from guest artists for example, strong vocals from Joyce and Luciana Souza, and polyrhythmic magic from each album’s perspective percussionists and bass players. Whereas Santos Neto draws on a wealth of Brazilian styles such as samba, baiao, choro and marcho rancho, Perez’s Panamanian roots are firmly ingrained in his playing. However, both Santos Neto and Perez are omnivorous, pan-Latin jazz players, who organically blend numerous styles to create wholly original music.
Roda begins with the amazingly natural 5/4 "Estrela Do Mar" ("Starfish," which has five arms, of course). This cut establishes the tone for the rest of the album, which is: interesting melodies and solos coupled with solid rhythmic underpinnings. Other highlights on the album are "Gente Boa" ("Nice Folks"), de Holanda’s mandolin showpiece; the catchy "Coco Na Roda" ("Coco in the Circle"), which includes Santos Neto doubling on flute; Amorim’s light acoustic guitar voicing on "Rancho Azul" ("Blue Ranch"); and "Bach-Te-Vi," a Bach-inspired minor choro featuring Grossi’s Toots Thielman-like harmonica playing.The CD package not only includes Santos Neto’s own notes on the players and the compositions themselves, but also a 15-term Brazilian Music 101 glossary, extremely helpful for the neophyte. For the listener, Roda will also hopefully serve as a window into the incredibly vast world of Brazilian music MPB (musica popular brasileira), bossa nova, samba, and choro. Just a word of warning: Once you take the Brazilian plunge, there’s no return.