Jazz flute maestro Mark Weinstein's latest offering, Jazz Brasil, is due for official release in January 2011 on Jazzheads. However, advance copies are already available.
Of Weinstein's now four Brazilian albums, Jazz Brasil is clearly the most "mainstream" one. And this is by no means a bad thing, on the contrary, it should help introduce a far wider audience to the delights of Brazilian jazz. Jazz Brasil is really more like a two-way journey of exploration - in the one direction, Brazilian music in a jazz context, in the other, jazz in a Brazilian one.
The album does invite inevitable comparisons with Herbie Mann. For a start, there is the title, so reminiscent of Mann's 1987 release Jasil Brazz, although likely as not purely coincidental. Further, both Mann and Weinstein concentrated/concentrate on playing flute exclusively - even now still a rarity in mainstream jazz. Both had/have a great love of and affinity for Brazilian music, although Mann's later leanings were more towards Brazilian contemporary popular music. And Weinstein on this current offering even pays tribute to Mann by including one of the latter's best-known compositions, Memphis Underground, from his 1969 blues/R&B/funk inspired album of the same title.
But that is where the - superficial - similarities end. As flautists, Weinstein's and Mann's styles and technique are poles apart. Where Mann's were fairly typical, conventional if not classical flute, with a pronounced use of tonguing, Weinstein's owes more to the sax and the human voice than anything else, with a superb fluidity and a "singing" quality that is unparalleled. Where Mann used to swing as wide and graceful as a gibbon, Weinstein's swing is a little more restrained perhaps. Improvisationally, the two are also poles apart, with Weinstein's improvs beings some of the most harmonically complex ever. And, without wishing to take anything away from the late great Herbie Mann (I collected just about every single one of his albums back in the day, after all!), Mark Weinstein somehow seems to always manage to get much more deeply into the heart and soul and spirit of Brazilian music, almost uncannily so.
Indeed, although best known for Afro-Cuban jazz, Brazilian music seems to come naturally to Weinstein, and the two seem to have been as made for each other as Afro-Cuban and Weinstein, or as lungs and air. As of course the music of Cuba and Brazil are by no means poles apart and both are heavily informed by African roots, both seem to flow naturally in Weinstein's veins.
On Jazz Brasil, Mark Weinstein, on his now characteristic mix of concert, alto and bass flute, is superbly accompanied by one of the finest modern American jazz pianists and exponents of Brazilian music, Kenny Barron, long term collaborator and outstanding Brazilian bassist Nilson Matta - who also contributed one original, Sambosco - and drummer and percussionist Marcello Pellitteri.
Weinstein's bass flute sees its finest outings yet on the Monk classic Ruby My Dear - mellow and soulful, dreamy and sophisticated, perhaps one of the finest interpretations of this piece - and again on Mann's Memphis Underground which has Weinstein at the most bluesy ever with both him and Barron leaving no blues stone unturned in their improvs, and which could hardly be more different from Mann's original recording if it tried. Herbie Mann almost certainly would have enjoyed this one feels. Weinstein's alto comes into its own on the Wayne Shorter classic Nefertiti - clearly another of Weinstein's favourite composers - which could have been written for alto flute.
The Joe Henderson blues Isotope and Weinstein's own superb Dawn's Early Light round off the non-Brazilian material on Jazz Brasil. Nonetheless, you'd swear all these pieces were Brazilian, such is the depth of the Brazilian style so supremely brought to them by Weinstein and his collaborators.
Of the strictly Brazilian material, in addition to the already noted Matta original there are two classic Jobim bossas and Barroso's classic Brazil, forever immortalised as one of the first bossa recordings made famous by the immortal João Gilberto. Much of Brazilian music, and Barroso's and Jobim's in particular, has a certain natural affinity with jazz in its harmonic complexity, and Weinstein brings this across superbly.
The soloing on Jazz Brasil all round is breathtaking. Ever fluid, ever inventive, soaring here, gently floating there. Weinstein again proves himself the supreme improviser that he is, right up there with the super giants of the past. Barron is on finest form, too, and the dialogues between him and Weinstein are as magnificent as anything.
As totally consistent an album as one is used to from Weinstein, Jazz Brasil is utterly compelling and addictive even. Laid-back cool at its finest, Brazilian sensuousness through and through. Above all, jazz. A true thoroughbred. Where Timbasa was his hottest, Jazz Brasil is Mark Weinstein's coolest album yet.
As a bonus, Jazz Brasil comes in a double gate-fold and gives the dreaded jewel case a miss.
It is hardly necessary to point out that no collection of Brazilian jazz can ever be complete without Mark Weinstein's Jazz Brasil, and it is also decidedly essential in any good Latin/Afro-Latin jazz collection. Besides that it should have a place in any good music collection. Unmissable!
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