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Portinho Trio with Special Guest Jay Ashby: Vinho do Porto

The mono-monikered Portinho has been one of Brazil’s most highly regarded drummers since the 1970s, having worked alongside Arturo Sandoval, Gato Barbieri, Paquito D’Rivera, Michel Legrand, Tania Maria and many others, yet he has rarely recorded under his own name. Vinho do Porto corrects that oversight.

Ostensibly a trio date featuring Klaus Mueller on piano and Itaiguara Brandão and Lincoln Goines splitting bass duties, much of the coloring here can actually be attributed to “special guest” trombonist Jay Ashby, who also produced. Ashby contributes to virtually the entire recording, providing a foil for Mueller’s expressive ivory work. In tandem, Mueller and Ashby lay out a floor plan atop which Portinho and the bassists build continually. On the closing “Who’s Smokin’?,” a D’Rivera/Claudio Roditi composition, the pianist and trombonist chase each other’s tails throughout, while on Jacob do Bandolin’s “Dôce De Côco” Ashby takes the wheel with Mueller riding shotgun. On the ballad “Aquarela do Brasil,” one of the strongest tracks here, Ashby’s easy-paced, lyrical trombone soloing takes its cue from Mueller’s moody piano intro.

While all of this is going on, Portinho and the bassists are hardly idle. Simultaneously subtle and propulsive, Portinho fuses traditional samba rhythms with straightahead masterfully, but he’s not one to step on toes. On Hermeto Pascoal’s “Viva O Rio de Janeiro,” Portinho leads the way, unleashing pure firepower, but he never attempts to steal the music or place himself above it. Precise and surefooted, his presence is always prominent the mix; in a split second he can turn even the most doctrinaire samba into a bop-fueled adventure. Tossing in just enough flourishes to infuse his syncopated rhythms with some flash, Portinho is always exactly where he should be, or on his way to someplace the listener hasn’t thought of.

Originally Published