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Helio Alves: Portrait in Black and White

On the inside of Helio Alves’ new CD, Portraits in Black and White, there is a great photo of the pianist and his 16-month-old daughter, Anna. He is holding her and she is looking toward the sky, her little hand pointing upward, with the kind of curiosity about the world reserved for the very young.

You could say that same youthful curiosity is in every note of this CD.

Helio Alves is from Sao Paulo, and he has a long, prestigious pedigree in Brazilian music: Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, Oscar Castro-Neves and Claudio Roditi are just some of his credits. Yet for this recording, he gets to play the kind of music he doesn’t often get hired for: straightahead piano jazz. Portraits in Black and White has only a hint of Brazilian feel to it. Even on the title cut, by Brazilian master Antonio Carlos Jobim, Alves and his trio (bassist Santi Debriano and drummer Matt Wilson) play like it’s a late-night jazz ballad, not a beach samba.

The highlight of the CD is Alves’ unbelievably emotional tribute to his daughter, “Song for Anna.” Both sentimental and joyful, it all at once reflects the awe and reverence we all have for our children. And like the best piano trios, Debriano and Wilson follow his every emotion with nuance and subtlety.

There is a reference in the CD’s liner notes about being bilingual in both jazz and Brazilian. That’s almost too easy a metaphor for the music on Portrait in Black and White. Being bilingual means speaking two separate languages. This music is more like being so immersed in the message that you lose track of what language you’re speaking and create a perfect blend of both.

Originally Published