How it is possible that bassist Nilson Matta is allowed to fly so low under the proverbial radar, with recognition coming mainly from his peers, is one of those mysteries that artists have to learn to live with. Meanwhile, Matta has been complementing the music of luminaries from singers João Gilberto, Johnny Alf and Chico Buarque do Holanda, and multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal, to saxophonist Joe Henderson and pianist Don Pullen, with grace and majesty.
Matta's career has spanned decades and throughout he has been a musician of immense technical skill and a composer with daring, creative ideas. Copacabana, an album that brings together tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, flutist Anne Drummond, pianist Klaus Mueller and Matta's radiant rhythm section of drummer Mauricio Zottarelli and percussionist Zé Mauricio, is a tour de force of composition and musicianship of the highest order.
Although the title of the album may give the impression that this is a carioca singing sensuously of the myth and reality of Brazil, it is much more than that. With five of the nine tracks on this album written by him, Matta guides the ear and the heart gently on a journey of fluttering classicism and the almost mystical dancing that characterizes any expedition through Brazilian countryside. Throughout he has imbued his musical impressions with the sizzle of sun and surf, the sway of dense foliage, and the sashaying of feet that samba even as they simply walk through everyday life.
Matta has also shown that he is a master of composition. His "Aguas Brasileiras" is a superbly crafted piece that ascends rarified air in much the same way as the Cuban classic "Drume Negrita" does. His pizzicato solo shows just how eloquent he can be while putting his technical wizardry through its paces. His elegiac offering to the Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell, "Baden," has the cry of a soulful ballad even as it elevates the guitarist to sainthood. On "Pantanal" he plays con arco and unaccompanied, as he gently guides the music through the splendor of the Brazil of Amazonia.
It bears mention here that Matta is ever graceful as he interprets Villa-Lobos' "Trenzinho do Caipira," a piece from that composer's larger work, "Bachianas Brasileiras," navigating its many twists and turns with sublime sophistication. His version of that other Brazilian classic, Ary Barroso's "Aquarela do Brasil," unlike many versions of the piece, sparkles with glitter on the soft textures of Brazilian rhythm as it sways and dances. On Luis Gonzaga and Heitor Teixeira's "Asa Branca/Baião Matta guides the ensemble—especially flutist Drummond, who is outstanding here, as are the percussionists—through the joyful, skipping twists of the eternal melody from one of Brazil's most sophisticated folk musicians. Allen also contributes a gem of a song, "I Can See Forever." This is a chart that not only captures the grace and swagger of Brazil's open vistas, but also shows Allen's great sensitivity as a composer. Predictably, the tenor saxophonist excels with the warmth and splendor of tone and manner on this track.
Matta has crafted a superb album from end to end. It is a set that ought to resonate, not just with lovers of Brazilian music, but quite simply with every note of significant music. As far as celebrating the virtuosity and craftsmanship of one of music's great bassists, this is another chapter in the ongoing testament of its creator.
Tracks: Baden; Trenzinho do Caipira; Aguas Brasileiras; Brazil (Aquarela Do Brasil); Pantanal; Copacabana; Saci Pereré I Can See Forever; Asa Branca/Baião.
Personnel: Harry Allen: tenor saxophone; Anne Drummond: flute; Klaus Mueller: piano; Nilson Matta: bass, acoustic guitar (6); Mauricio Zottarelli: drums; Zé Mauricio: percussion.
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