Samba jazz and bossa nova are two parallel streams of Brazilian music. Both emerged around 1960. Samba jazz hits harder. The Brazilian musicians who invented it loved American players like Art Blakey and John Coltrane.
Rio 65 Trio, by pianist/composer Dom Salvador, is one of the seminal recordings of samba jazz. When it was released, Duduka da Fonseca was 14 and had been playing drums for a year. The album redirected the course of his life. He hadn’t known that subtle, intricate Brazilian rhythms and edgy, high-impact jazz could be blended. He practiced along with the LP for hours on end. In 1975 he moved from Rio de Janeiro to New York, and he’s since spent his career refining his integration of the two musical languages he loves.
Da Fonseca’s tribute album contains 11 Salvador compositions, several of which appeared on Rio 65 Trio. The first track, “Farjuto,” opens with a powerful drum announcement, then pianist David Feldman unleashes Salvador’s vivid, vaulting melody. Salvador’s songs seem simple but their internal rhythmic connections are complex. “Transition” sounds like modal jazz impregnated with new varieties of rhythmic energy. Da Fonseca and bassist Guto Wirtti start with 2/4, then tempos swirl. “Gafieira” is named for a traditional Rio ballroom dance incorporating acrobatic elements. It is a daunting melodic and rhythmic obstacle course, but not for Feldman: He sprints, flies high, and sticks the landing.
Yet the pieces that best reveal Salvador’s gift for indelible melody, Feldman’s creativity in reimagining that melody, and da Fonseca’s talent for telling stories on drums, are the ballads. “Mariá” is for Salvador’s wife, a love song that stays rapt even as it throbs. “Para Elis,” with a yearning solo by guest cellist Jaques Morelenbaum, is for Elis Regina, a great Brazilian singer who died young. Salvador worked with her and, clearly, revered her.