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Baden Powell: At the Rio Jazz Club

Guitarist and composer Baden Powell stands as one of the last half-century’s pillars of Brazilian music. He combines extraordinary instrumental technique with a singular intermingling of willowy jazz, hot Brazilian urban sounds, sophisticated classical references and richly textured African cultural and musical traditions.

These two live recordings capture the guitarist and composer in a pensive and reflective mood during the last decade of his life. While the Iris disc was made in May 1990, the Brussels set was recorded in October 1999, less than a year before his death in Rio de Janeiro at age 63.

At the Rio Jazz Club finds Powell performing a tender and relaxed solo set of tunes by such composers as Vinicius de Moraes (Powell’s one-time writing partner), Tom Jobim, Pixinguinha and the guitarist himself. His silvery tone and blazing technique are entrancing, as is the Bachlike counterpoint he brings to tunes like “Jongo.” (The magical spell is broken slightly by Powell’s ill-advised, nasal and flat vocals on the jocular-sounding “Formosa.”)

The solo Live a Bruxelles includes more original material as well as tunes by such legends as Luiz Bonfa and a roster of expected names, and it reveals a more ferocious Powell. He tears through Jobim’s “Samba do Aviao” (which also appears on the Iris disc, as does the Powell/de Moraes tune “Samba em Preludio”) and the brilliantly difficult “Garota de Ipanema” with more determined vehemence than jubilation. Still, the color range is spectacular: Pixinguinha’s sultry “Naquele Tempo” blossoms into a brightly colored flower, and the deep, bluesy richness of Powell’s own “Intro Asa Branca” is breathtaking. With its focused performance and superior sound, the Sunnyside title is the one to buy, but Brazilian-jazz aficionados will certainly want both.

Originally Published