As closely associated as he still is with Cuba, from which he defected in 1981, Paquito D’Rivera has often chosen to express his affection for the music of Brazil. Song for Maura (named after his late mother) is the latest example, a collaboration with that country’s Trio Corrente: Fabio Torres (piano), Paulo Paulelli (bass) and Edu Ribeiro (drums). Recorded in São Paulo and co-produced by Jacques Figueras and Brenda Feliciano, it’s a more successful probe into the music than 2002’s weak Brazilian Dreams, which was watered down with tame arrangements and the inclusion of the New York Voices’ pallid harmonies.
Song for Maura is a gutsier, earthier and ultimately more inspired record. D’Rivera’s clarinet and, to a lesser extent, alto saxophone are bold and swinging on the vigorous uptempo tracks, eloquently expressive on the ballads. It would be easy for him to get away with complacency on a set such as this, but he’s not interested: Song for Maura houses some of D’Rivera’s most satisfyingly edgy playing in years. Chalk that up, in good part, to his collaborators, who’ve clearly given D’Rivera much to work with. In Torres, especially, who also arranged 10 of the 13 tracks, D’Rivera has partnered with a pianist of uncommon skill and drive.
Avoiding the tired Brazilian repertoire-not a single Jobim composition here-the quartet instead looks to lesser-known composers like Pixinguinha, whose frolicsome “1 X 0” builds upon airtight clarinet and piano harmonies, and Kximbinho, author of the seductively airy ballad “Sonoroso.” Each of the musicians save Paulelli also contributes song material. Song for Maura is a first-rate summit, one that D’Rivera would be wise to explore further.