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Romero Lubambo: Rio de Janeiro Underground

Brazilians Cesar Camargo Mariano and Romero Lubambo douse the listener with an inspiring percussive spiritedness on Duo that lends strength to its festively melodic bounty. “O Que E, O Que E” and “April Child,” for example, bear witness to such a claim particularly well. Guitarist Lubambo features flawless technique, with classical chops spicing his aggressive attacks-occasionally extended into cascading warp-drive lines that handle anything from bop single-note passages to chordal voicings in vocabularies ranging from blues to any place in the rich repertoire of his native land. His phrasings play at will with the beat, both supporting and superseding it into a virtual presence with magnificent tension and release, and pianist Mariano matches him peerlessly throughout.

The keyboardist has a well-established reputation due to his work with singer Elis Regina. Mariano wrote some of the material on Duo, which also includes music from Antonio Carlos Jobim, Lubambo as well as others and a beautiful rendition of Clifford Brown and Max Roach’s “Joy Spring.” Mariano’s manly yet delicate touch refuses to languish into morose right-handed sweetness, nor does it wallow in angry or testicular left-handed harmonic flaunting. In his exquisite “Short Cut,” both players assemble themselves together into a quite cosmopolitan waltzy sonic entity. This pairing of Brazilian musical strongmen, with harmonic poetry flowing from their minds and into their fingers, lovingly treats the breezy sophistication of Jobim’s “Fotografia.” To think that Duo is just a snapshot of the engaged excellence these two produce together.

Romero Lubambo recruited Herbie Mann, Ivan Lins and several New York-based musicians for his Rio de Janeiro Underground. The guitarist wrote and arranged most of the material; Lins wrote “Easy Going.” On it, he sings longing for moonlight views and divine Brazilian mountaintops. Pulsating with perky percussive funk, Lubambo and Cesar Camargo Mariano, on piano and Fender Rhodes, lead a charge answered by Lins with his own brand of scat. The singer proceeds to vocalize “Estrela Guia (Guiding Star)” and wonders where the origin of Brazilian secrets may lie. Both interpretations by Lins are of high caliber, as is Lubambo’s admiring support for the singer’s solid lyrics.

Sting popularized Lins’ “She Walks this Earth,” which opens this recording featuring Mann and Lubambo trading lines. The flutist’s earthy breathing, secure intonation and demanding flow of notes meet Lubambo’s strengths in groove, rhythmic surefootedness and harmonic elegance. The late Mann enhances the title cut with a stylish and caressing lower-toned melodic groove that tickles with sweet whispers. Lubambo scavenges enough beauty out of it to strum his own along Dario Eskenazi’s piano nonintrusive and nutritious chord droplets. Mann’s “Dipper Mouth” becomes a romping march at the hands of Lubambo, though the veteran flutist doesn’t flinch one bit.

Melody, however, is not all when it comes to Brazilian music. Lubambo hangs with New York City’s exciting Jinga Pura samba school in “Avenida Central,” just as he speeds lightning-fast in the full-band samba rendition of “Sweeping the Chimney.”

Originally Published