São Paulo native Felipe Salles blends the visceral and the cerebral on his fascinating fifth album, infusing classical modernist strains with the buoyant rhythms of his Brazilian homeland. And that’s by no means all. Departure spans a hard, shape-shifting blues (“B’s Blues”), Bartók-ian snake-charmer sounds (“Béla’s Reflection”), dappled pastorale (“Adagio Triste,” featuring Salles’ floating flute over strings) and invigorating postbop in “Natural Selection,” the last track.
Backed by a band as worldly as he is, Salles also showcases new ally Randy Brecker, a veteran trumpeter whose biting tone and restless lyricism spark the title track and “Natural Selection.” Brecker’s tartness and Salles’ rounder, warmer tone on tenor sax make for an unusual and engaging sonic dynamic. There’s a cinematic quality to the sultry, metrically stimulating “Seagull’s Island” and the blend of Brazilian and New Orleanian rhythmic approaches on “Maracatu D’Orleans.” There’s Salles’ schooling, obvious in song titles like “Béla’s Reflection” and “Schoenberg’s Error.” But there’s little academic about Departure. This supple, subtle album is the work of a fine player and gifted composer conversant in whatever musical form he attempts. Even the ballads-“Adagio Triste” and the full-bodied “Awaiting,” highlighting Salles’ tenor and Nando Michelin’s lovely piano-bring something new to the form.