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Nilson Matta: Nilson Matta’s Black Orpheus

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Growing up in Brazil, bassist Nilson Matta was obsessed with the music from the 1956 play Orfeu da Conceição and, later, from the film based on it, 1959’s Black Orpheus. Both featured songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfá, and that music would be the world’s introduction to what became known as bossa nova. More than half a century later, Matta has finally tackled the music of his youth and interpreted it with an all-star cast.

Nilson Matta’s Black Orpheus gathers songs from both the play and the movie, and the roster features all-stars from Brazil, the United States and beyond, including pianist Kenny Barron, flutist Anne Drummond, clarinetist Anat Cohen, trumpeter Randy Brecker, guitarist Guilherme Monteiro, vocalists Leny Andrade and Gretchen Parlato, and five prominent Brazilian percussionists. The joyous affair begins in earnest with “Overture,” whose haunting opening theme leads to a celebratory performance. One of the most familiar pieces, “Manhã de Carnaval,” is stripped down to a trio treatment; Barron takes the helm, and his lines are wondrous, crisp and classy. Fernando Saci’s insistent, pounding hand percussion assumes the lead voice on the powerful “Ascend, My Love,” and Cohen’s clarinet floats breezily over the five-piece rhythm section on “Un Nome de Mulher.”

Vocals are used sparingly but to powerful effect. Parlato’s breathy, flirty approach is perfect (spine tingling, even) on “Eu e o Meu Amor/Lamento No Morro” and “Valsa de Eurídice,” and on both tunes Drummond complements her voice with lovely phrasings. Andrade, whom many consider Brazil’s greatest vocalist, sings in a directly opposite style-deep, robust and matronly-on “A Felicidade” and “Se Todos Fossem Iguais a Você.” Impressively, it seems entirely natural that she would appear alongside Parlato in the same program. Throw in a few percussive interludes, and we’ve got ourselves a beautiful reintroduction to some of the finest samba ever composed.

Originally Published