Ivan Lins & SWR Big Band: Cornucopia

Can a matchup be both fated and unlikely? There’s no reason, on paper, that a collaboration between Ivan Lins, one of Brazil’s most prolific and feted composers and artists, and Germany’s SWR Big Band should function as naturally as it does. Yet for whatever reason, SWR conductor Ralf Schmid had a hunch, pursued it and the result is marvelous.

One major reason it does work so well is that the parties involved avoid both Brazilian and big-band conventions assiduously. “Oi Lua,” one of several tracks to which Schmid also contributes keys, builds on a thrusting funk bottom. “Araketutu,” the first track, comes to life amidst the layered voices of a South African choir-the recording was made in five studios on four continents, including Africa-and derives much of its soulful thrust from guests Nilson Matta and Porthino (bass, drums/percussion, respectively). “Missing Miles,” celestial and delicate, must have been named that for a reason, as Joo Kraus’ flugelhorn, trumpet and electronics very much recall a certain departed American musician’s later years.

Electronics and percussion are, in fact, all over these sessions, and although the mix is often dense and busy it never feels crowded or overwrought. Schmid’s keys and programming provide a solid bedrock of sound on “Pontos Cardeais,” over which Matthias Erlewein’s alto saxophone and Lins’ vocals take liberties, and the combo of piano, celesta, vibes and trombone on the closing “Guantanamineira” is orchestral in its spread, lending Lins’ breathy vocal a Chet Baker-like easiness. Sweet stuff.

(Editor’s Note: Listen to a cut from the album here.)