Gary Bartz – Music Is My Sanctuary (1977)

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Gary Bartz
Music Is My Sanctuary
Original release 1977, Capitol (ST-11647)

 

01. Music Is My Sanctuary
02. Carnaval de l’esprit
03. Love Ballad
04. Swing Thing
05. Oo Baby Baby
06. Macaroni
 
Produced by Fonce Mizell & Larry Mizell 
Arranged By – Gary Bartz & Larry Mizell
 String Arrangements by Wade Marcus
Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Piano, Electric Piano, Synthesizer, Vocals – Gary Bartz
    Backing Vocals – Gary Bartz,Larry Mizell, Sigidi, Syreeta Wright
    Bass – Curtis Robertson, Jr., Welton Gite  
    Drums – Howard King, James Gadson, Nate Neblett  
    Guitar – David T. Walker, John Rowin, Juewett Bostick, Wa Wa Watson
     Keyboards – Larry Mizell
    Percussion – Bill Summers, Mtume   
    Piano – George Cables
    Trumpet – Eddie Henderson, Ray Brown
    Vocals – Syreeta Wright
 
 
Co-producers – Gary Bartz & James Carter
Engineer, Recorded By, Mixed By – Jim Nipar
Executive-Producer – Larkin Arnold
Illustration – Michael Bryan
Photography By – Vicki Seabrook-Bartz
Art Direction – Roy Kohara 
This pressing – 2003 Blue Note “Rare Groove Series” – mastered by Ron McMaster
(thanks to Sarge for the EAC rip)

Gary Bartz has been on the short list for “artists I should post more of” since pretty much the first week.  And yet I have done pitifully little about it.  Alas, the story of Flabbergasted Vibes is composed of an endless string of shattered dreams and broken promises.  The Bartz records that most obviously belong here are his NTU Troop efforts (one of which I posted, long ago).  But today I’m going to post something a bit lighter, because there is still a little bit of summer left in the northern hemisphere.

“Music Is My Sanctuary” was the second collaboration between Bartz and the production team of the Mizell Brothers, who were on a dual quest to make dance music more cerebral and cerebral music more danceable, which is my way of saying that they took some very serious jazz heavyweights and helped them put out some of the funkiest, most electric sets of their careers.  In some ways partnering with the Mizells was a natural outgrowth of the work of artists like Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, Johnny Hammond and others which dabbled in  hybrid styles like soul jazz, or early-70s CTI jazz-funk.  But in working with these brothers – the Van Dyke Parks and George Martin of jazz-funk and disco-jazz – they were truly diving in deep into waters that had been off limits to “serious” jazz musicians: surrendering one’s sound and aesthetic direction to the sonic thumbprint of a pair of Producer / Arrangers who were the antithesis of transparent in their approach.  Many of the best jazz producers and engineers are known for the purity or elegance with which they let an already-distinctive artist speak through a recording.  The Mizells, on the other hand, were sought after precisely because of their stylizations and aesthetic shaping of the material.  Artists worked with them because they wanted a certain sound.  And Gary Bartz certainly received the full Mizell Treatment here.

“Music Is My Sanctuary” was the second collaboration between Gary Bartz and the Mizells.  The first one, The Shadow Do, is a perfectly okay album but somewhat underwhelming, almost enough to make one think that Bartz had taken a temporary wrong turn. But “Music Is My Sanctuary” is a fully-realized, exemplary work, so it is unsurprising that this is the one that jumps out at everyone and gets remembered.  It doesn’t hurt that the wonderful voice of Syreeta leads the album on the opening title track, where she also sings the word “hypnotical” which I always feel shouldn’t really be a word but the dictionary assures me that it is.  You couldn’t ask for a more upbeat affirmation of one’s chosen profession, and it starts the album off in the right mood.  Later in the record, the intro section of the rather predictably titled “Swing Thing” manage to presage both 90s acid-jazz and hip hop by putting several bars of a straight funk beat behind a walking bass line played on an upright.  The only marginally weak point on the whole record is the somewhat beguiling ‘Ooh Baby’ which is a mostly instrumental cover of the Miracles song.  Syreeta sings a little of the refrain near the beginning, and for a moment I want to hear her launch into the whole thing, but then ultimately I am glad that she doesn’t because I think it would turn pretty schlocky pretty quick.

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The second track (Carnaval de l’esprit ) is a natural centerpiece of the album for me, given its Caribbean slant and Brazilian cuica drum.  It’s ambitiously funky, but it also features one of the technological innovations that the Mizells helped introduce into the music world of the 1970s.  I refer to a certain guitar effect that appears on virtually all their productions (often more prominently than on this track, in fact).  The story goes back to Larry Mizell’s days as an electrical engineer and part of The Corporation production team and session band.  It was on a Motown promotional tour of Europe that Larry met the Jewish-Italian audio engineer (and soon-to-be aspiring Italo-disco producer) Enrico Manchewitz Tagglione.  Enrico had an idea for a guitar effect pedal that would combine a frequency sweep and envelope follower to sonically realize an audio-visual hallucination that had been coming to him with repeated intensity every time he worked on a recording session:  the image of a nude woman or man pouring a molten liquid of some kind – usually chocolate or honey – all over their bodies in slow motion.  He was convinced that he could express this vision musically through some clever circuit design.  After a particularly animated rap session with Mizell into the early morning hours during that tour of Europe, Larry convinced him to really go for it – and, perhaps most importantly, became his first investor on the new invention.  Without even a prototype to show for it yet, they christened it the Honey Licks 2000.

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Gary Bartz, Enrico Manchewitz “Macaroni” Tagglione, and LarryMizell in the studio

When Tagglione finally had a sample model to show Mizell, somewhat less than a year later, he flew to Los Angeles with the only one in existence.  It was a bit on the large side as far as foot pedals went, and he confessed to Mizell that he had considered starting over again with a rack unit sort of like a Roland Space Echo.  But he insisted the Honey Licks 2000 needed tactile, hands-free toe control.  And indeed, the prototype had four footswitch controls labeled Honey, Chocolate, Caramel, and Butter to control the coloration of tone (he would later attempt to add a switch for ‘Strawberry’, but for unexplained reasons it could only play Shuggie Otis songs), and a single “intensity” toggle switch that could be moved with either your foot or finger, and which could be set to low, medium, or “ultra-sweaty.”   The sonic landscape of jazz-funk and the nascent disco sound would never be the same, as dozens of records would come to feature the sparkling ascending-and-descending, slow-motion seduction of honeyed chocolate dripping on naked flesh.    Unfortunately, neither Tagglione or Mizell thought to patent the device, being more enamored with its hynoptical possibilites in the studio and singing its praises to any guitarist or producer who would listen.  The clock ran out on that business opportunity, as knock-off effects pedals began appearing, with names like Honey Dust and Electric Glide.  Sadly, Enrico’s ambitions to become a successful record producer and arranger in the growing Italo-disco scene never took off either, and he became better known as one of the main suppliers of quality cocaine to recording studios and touring musicians.  In fact, the final song on “Music Is My Sanctuary” is usually considered to be an homage to his work in that capacity, as the majority of American musicians working with the Mizells had trouble remembering his name, and had taken to referring to him by term of endearment “Macaroni.”

 

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Ceccarelli – Ceccarelli (1977)

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Ceccarelli
“Ceccarelli”
Released 1977 – Inner City (IC 1057)
 
Forget It    
I’m A Skunk    
Big City Bright    
Ded’s Circus    
Life Is Real Only Here (Part 1)    
Speed It Up    
What The…    
Where Is Here    
Life Is Only Real Here (Part 2)    
His Love    
Space Out



Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced (for 16-bit). Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

I saved this album from being thrown in the trash by a college radio station.  A bunch of us volunteer DJs had been tasked with sorting through thousands of LPs in a storage space over the course of several months and deciding what was worthy of putting into the main library and what would be discarded.  I came in at the end of the process, when the management told us we could just scavenge for things to keep before they began tossing stuff for good.  It was and still is a fantastic radio station, but  I discovered  a lot of the indie kids considered a lot of quality music to be unworthy.  And a lot that was pretty collectible too,  without much defacement to the album covers – Judy Sill white label promo, going to the trash?  Bridget St. John on Dandelion? One-off heavy psych rock bands like Alamo or Granicus?  Or Coleman Hawkins and Bud Powell records on Pablo, kind of boring past-their-prime recordings like everything on Pablo but still surely not destined for a landfill.   It was my moral obligation to save these from oblivion and take them home.  Including this album, a specimen that has potential to accomplish the rare feat of pleasing or at least sparking the interest of both the “rare groove” hunter and those into whimsical prog-rock bands fond of making up their own mythological universes.

During the Great Radio Purge of 2008, Most of the good jazz had been put back into the library.  Now granted the first stage of this ‘trim the fat’ operation worked on the honor system, presuming that someone stumbling across a Sun Ra album on Saturn Records was going to keep it at the station and not take it home… This may be why I absented myself from the first stage, wishing to avoid such ethical dilemmas.  Also, volunteering isn’t a very lucrative occupation , I was already doing two radio shows for them, and doing any more would impinge on innate laziness.  In any event, I was remotely aware of André Cecarelli’s name as a figure in European jazz and jazz fusion, but mostly I was attracted by the bright mandala oil painting gatefold cover because I like shiny things.  Opening it up, I found some guide notes that had been typed by the reviewing DJ and glued neatly to the inside jacket, which is a nice touch since usually they are handwritten on index cards fixed sloppily on the jacket with a glue stick, or just written directly on the album covers in ballpoint pen.  After appreciating the DJ-reviewer’s tidiness, I then noticed some of the additional musicians on the recording:  Janick Topp and Claude Engel (Magma), Didier Lockwood (Magma, Pierre Moerlan’s Gong), Ernesto ‘Tito’ Duarte (Barrabas), Alex Ligertwood (Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express, Santana).  I mean, c’mon, it had to be worth at least a listen, right?

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The album may not be as far out as this list of heavy friends playing on it might lead you to believe, nor as good as it probably ought to be, but it has some intense moments.  I am less enamored of it than the DJ tasked with reviewing it in 1978, but then he or she also seemingly did not recognize any of the musicians who played on it and so perhaps had lower expectations than I did.  As the reviewer states, this is much less jazz (as might be expected from something on the Inner City label) and much more fusion or jazz-rock (they suggested calling it “big band fusion…”)  The reviewer makes a comparison to Mahavishnu Orchestra, which I don’t really hear:  this stuff takes itself far less serious than anything John McLaughlin has ever played on.  There is none of the sci-fi loonyness of Magma either, which may be a relief to many of you.  If anything this stuff puts me in mind of Jean Luc-Ponty and George Duke, or maybe just mid-70s Zappa when George Duke was playing on his records.  Bonus points for the use of steel drums on the track “Ded’s Circus.”

If I had to some this album up in one sentence it would be: “The kind of record that Howard Moon from The Mighty Boosh would get very excited about.”  In fact the gravely spoken word on the interlude “What the…” on side two sounds suspiciously like the Spirit Of The Blues character from that show.

As a bonus, I photographed the track-by-track notes from the anonymous late-70s college DJ before having a go at removing them.  Word to the wise, removing adhesive material that has been in place for over thirty-five years is not a guaranteed success (but I knew that before beginning).  The stickers weren’t really bothering anybody, but I knew they were there and it would bother me sometimes late at night and I would consider digging through a few thousand LPs to find this one and try to remove them at 4 a.m.  I opted to leave the reviewer’s overall impressions in place, however.  I mean it’s part of the history now, right?

24bit

 

Caetano Veloso & Banda Black Rio – Bicho Baile Show (1978)

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 Caetano Veloso and Banda Black Rio
Bicho Baile Show (1978)


1.  Intro
2. Odara
3. Tigresa
4. London, London

5. Na Baixa do Sapateiro
6. Leblon via Vaz Lobo
7. Maria fumaça
8. Two Naira fifty Kobo
9. Gente
10. Alegria, alegria
11. Baião
12. Caminho da roça
13. Qualquer coisa
14. Chuva, suor e cerveja


Producedy by Caetano Veloso and Banda Black Rio.  Recorded by Mazola at the Teatro Carlos Gomes, Rio de Janeiro, 1978

Long-time readers of this blog may be surprised to see this post, because there seems to be a mistaken assumption that I somehow strongly dislike work of Caetano Veloso.  This is not true but is a direct result of my “trolling” the public, and particularly the gringo public, by saying that I in general I would rather reach for a Jorge Ben record, any day of the week, over most Caetano records.  That statement was actually about Jorge Ben and the degree to which his music has not been regarded as “culturally significant” art as has someone like Veloso, but the ensuing comment thread turned into something completely different.  I still stand by the original statement, but I gave up “trolling” in my New Years Resolutions, so why not let’s have a blog post that treats Caetano a bit more seriously than all that.

In recent years it is not uncommon to hear fans of Caetano employing a “you have to be able separate the art from the artist” argument, which puts him in the same uneasy company as famous film directors accused of child molestation or rape, so I’m not sure if that is a line of reasoning that works for him in the long run.  And the fact is that this kind of compartmentalization might be more valid if the man himself didn’t insist on being such a public figure, and continuously baiting the Brazilian public with polemical statements.  Why can’t he just be the reclusive genius I want him to be?  Well, if he did that, then he also wouldn’t really be Caetano. Fair enough.  But artists who make a point to that kind of high profile are also fair game for a little malicious snark from the likes of bloggers, especially when these artists start spouting reactionary inanities and conservative bullshit.  Granted he has not gone all Ted Nugent or anything (yet) but  in the words of one Frank Vincent Zappa (in self-parody), “shut up and play your guitar” already.  Even Caetano’s own mother wished he would shut up and stop giving interviews.   I could ignore his provocations more easily if it didn’t seem partly a maneuver to stay “relevant” in the public eye long after his stopped creating music of any real consequence, records that more often than not are embarrassing to listen to, with attempts to sound contemporary by singing Nirvana songs, or “rapping” on his mediocre ‘Tropicália 2’ record with Gil, or be “alternative” by channeling 1980s U2 in a record made in the late-2000s.  When Bob Dylan suddenly converted to evangelical Christianity, he made a fantastic gospel-tinged album, so it was easier for me to swallow whatever nonsense was going on with him personally.   Perhaps this will sound laden with “ageism”, but flailing around on stage like a ragdoll and writhing on stage in near-fetal position (c.f. the film of Phono 73, his performance of  “Asa Branca”) is perhaps edgy performance art when you are in your twenties and its 1973 (emphasis on “perhaps”, by the way), but running around the stage and out into the audience and high-fiving audience members like some kind of faux-Tropical-Springsteen when you reach your 60s just seems kind of desperate (c.f. Caetano on his tour for the album “Cê”

Iconoclasm has always been a major weapon in Caetano’s trick bag, and for the most part it has served a useful and important function, engaging with contemporary debates about culture and authenticity and subverting orthodoxies.  He did this during the televised song festivals when he and Gilberto Gil “went electric” in the moment of Tropicália, angering cultural nationalists who thought of electric guitars as weapons of imperialism;  He did this during the Phono 73 concert by bringing Odair José, a famous singer of so-called “low quality” romantic pop-rock or brega on stage for a duet of one of Odair’s big compositions of the day; and he did it with his album Bicho from 1977 and the live show that promoted it.  Now regarded almost universally as a classic of 1970s post-Tropicália MPB, it may be difficult for the outsider to fathom how it could have caused controversy or polemic in it’s day.  Many critics and cultural gatekeepers seemed to hate it.  In an echo of complaints from similar quarters ten years earlier, objections were raised to his appropriation of “foreign” sounds, in this case funk or disco (sort of, but only from a disco-phobic perspective).  In fact both Bicho and Gilberto Gil’s Refavela were inspired by a trip to Lagos, Nigeria, for the Festival of Black Arts in 1977.  Gil’s record has a proto-world beat sound to it, and is celebratory, energetic, and uplifting in the way you might expect.  Bicho on the other hand tended to be more ponderous, sonically murky, and emotionally mood, but also full of inspired songs with engaging arrangements and brilliant lyrics (this goes without saying for Caetano, and is the one saving grace on even his most musically stale records).  (** see the important note at the bottom if you’ve never heard this album..)

I’m not sure how much of the live show for Bicho was planned before the album was released, or if the show was Caetano’s way of upping the ante even further with his detractors.  For his backing band he chose the ensemble Banda Black Rio.  Now, I happen to like Banda Black Rio quite a bit, but once again here was a group that challenged what it meant to make “Brazilian music” and had some commercial success while doing it (which music critics from seemingly all countries repeatedly used to marginalize or ignore certain kinds of music during the 70s and 80s).  Stylistically they shared as many similarities with Earth Wind and  Fire or The Crusaders as they did with Dorival Caymmi, making largely instrumental records filled with jazz-funk-fusion which they tempered with dendê and coconut.

I remember when I first heard about the existence of this record and was so excited to hear it, only to feel a big disappointment.  Had I just set my expectations too high? Maybe but I don’t think that’s all of it.   I think it is more that this collaboration was one of those ideas that sounds better on paper.  At first listen the whole show sounds almost kind of unrehearsed, but the musicianship is of course impeccable and there’s not really a note out of place – Brazilian musicians of this caliber just don’t “do” unrehearsed.  Maybe it was over-rehearsed to death, then?  It’s not so much like polishing a diamond as sanding all the facets down.  Banda Black Rio were maybe just incapable of injecting the needed emotion into their playing to make these collaboration work.  Their own first few albums were, by and large, instrumental affairs.  Several of the tunes here have these wonderfully moody intro bits that make you think you are about to hear some seriously heavy stuff, and then the song kicks in and just kind of stays at a plateau of sameness.  They get several pieces all to themselves where they stretch out and do that thing they do – playing classics of the canon like Ary Barroso’s “Na baixo do sapateiro” and Luiz Gonzaga’s “Baião” and turning them into funky rumb-shakers wherein their soloists let loose their formidable jazz chops.   It’s a shame they can’t muster the same level of presence into the material with Caetano, because these are some of his best songs.  The opening cut Odara ought to literally blow us away, but it just lacks the urgency of the album version, a track that is most likely the deepest funk Caetano has ever put his name to.  This live version sounds like Caetano performing with a pickup band in a casino, albeit in 1978 which means I still would have thoroughly enjoyed it.  Interestingly the next track, the mellow Tigressa, comes across much more convincingly and could be (or could have been:?)  my favorite thing on the whole record.  Perhaps because Caetano’s acoustic guitar sets the pace – the guy is a master of lilting downtempo stuff like this that isn’t quite a ballad but simmers along nicely.  His astoundingly well-crafted lyrics, and his way of working a melody all sustain this evocative portrait, and then Banda Black Rio even manage to fuck that all up by going into double-time at the end of the tune, instead of just staying in the same tempo and laying into it, swinging it a little harder.  These guys could have benefited from a summer camp retreat with Isaac Hayes (hell, who couldn’t?).   Now although I am putting the blame on them them here, I will admit that I wasn’t hanging around at the rehearsals, and I have no doubt in my mind that the arrangement would not be this way if Caetano wasn’t okay with it.  In fact he may have insisted on it:  here again might be that particular aspect of his iconoclasm that starts to try my patience, pushing an idea farther than it probably deserves to go in the interest of his larger masterplan, turning on the boogie with a song that plainly doesn’t need it.

 “London, London”, his most famous tune from his “exile” recorded under the colors of the Union Jack, works far better than it ought to given all the above circumstances.  Enough to rekindle my hope for this venture.  It’s solid.  Then three consecutive instrumentals from Banda Black Rio while Caetano goes backstage or maybe out in the alleyway to have sex in a taxi cab (he is fond of getting it on in taxi cabs, as seen here in this 1983 film).  BBB sounds damn good here on both the originals and reinterpretations.  Then comes another tune that seems ON PAPER like it would work really well.  “Two Naira Fifty Kobo” is one of my favorite songs on “Bicho,” and this … just… doesn’t… work.   Mind you, I saw Caetano perform the same song twenty-two years later with a different arrangement and that one sucked too.  Maybe I am just being a bastard here – How he dare he mess with MY song! It’s his and he can do what he wants with it, fair enough.  When I saw that show I thought his rendition of the song was watered-down and tepid and a product of a decade of drifting towards ‘world music’-isms; had I only known this 1978 version at the time, I would have realized he had managed to water it down plenty in just a year after first recording it. 

“Gente” is a song that naturally lends itself to the jazzed up execution of this band, but (not to repeat myself or anything) it just isn’t anywhere near as strong as the version performed for the Doces Bárbados show.  In fact this ventures into just plain cheesy territory with some of the choices of instrumental embellishments and flourishes.   But wait, there’s more – you haven’t yet heard the disco-funk interpretation of the song that forever changed the course of contemporary Brazilian music, “Alegria Alegria,” the anthem of Tropicália.  At this point I begin to suspect that Caetano is just trolling us and trying to piss people off.  (And hence, I don’t mind trolling a certain component of his devotees).  Is he serious?  One never knows with him.  This song serves no purpose unless it is to illustrate “we did it because we can.”  More instrumental tunes.  I’d like to think Caetano is offstage doing some blow but he was probably writing off editorials to send to the New York Times or Le Monde or something.  Then he comes back and they phone in a version of Qualquer Coisa, a perfectly good song from his album of the same name, but which in this version has all the period charm of the plaid wallpaper we used to have my basement in the house where I grew up.  If you looked at it while listening to music and let your focus go soft, you might sometimes have a vision of a kilted Scotsman sporting a giant afro.  If only this track left such an enduring memory.  Or any memory at all.  I’ve already forgotten it.  Then the album ends with a frevo, “Chuva, suor e cerveja,” which I think Caetano also recorded for that carnaval album he made with a whole bunch of frevo on it, I don’t remember and I’m too lazy to check right now.  Hell if you actually made it this far into “Bicho Baile Show” and still care, you win the Stalwart Listener Award and I tip my hat to you.

Of course don’t let ME tell you what to think, give it a spin!  I feel badly now, like I should attach a motto to this blog, “Ruining Your Favorite Music Since 2008.”  I swear I thought I was going to write a fairly positive piece about this album when I decided to blog about it, reassuring my readers that I do in fact have a healthy appreciation for Mr. Veloso.  I thought I’d pick a less obvious choice, but I guess there is a reason why this record is seldom talked about.  I promise to pick a better one next time.

Fun drinking game, at least?  Take a shot of your favorite artisinal cachaça (Caetano won’t be having any Pitú) every time he meows like a cat or yelps like a dog!  Just don’t drive home, kids.  Take a taxi.  And hope Caetano isn’t in the back making out with anybody when you climb inside.

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 ** Note:  If you have not yet had the pleasure of hearing ‘Bicho’, which is truly a great album, do yourself a favor and make sure you seek out the *original* mix and now the godawful travesty that is the last reissue of the record.  This is not just me being a purist here –  As murky as the original mix might have been in certain spots, it is far superior to what he did on remixing it.  In part, that remix involved splashing everything with reverb to presumably make it sound more “modern” than the very dry 1977 mix, and the drums sound like they could have been re-recorded (although I don’t think they were) with an awful gated-drum sound that could have come off a record from 1991.  The result is a completely different aesthetic experience, so seek it out in its original.  

Paulinho da Costa – Agora (1977)

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Paulinho da Costa
AGORA
Released 1977 on Pablo (2310-785)
OJC Reissue 1991

A1         Simbora     8:44    
A2         Terra     4:23    
A3         Toledo Bagel     5:50    
B1         Berimbau Variations     3:50    
B2         Belisco     6:54    
B3         Ritmo Number One 8:27

Digitally remastered by Phil De Lancie (1991, Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, California).

Recorded at Kendun Studios, Burbank, California (August 6 through 16, 1976). Includes liner notes by David Griffin and Paulinho Da Costa.

Recording information: Kendun Studios, Burbank, CA (08/06/1976-08/16/1976).
Arrangers: Erich Bulling; Claudio Slon ; Paulinho Da Costa; Steve Huffsteter .

Personnel:
Paulinho da Costa (vocals, whistling, berimbau, tamboura, ocarina, congas, bongos, cuica, guiro, pandeiro, reco-reco, shaker, surdo, triangle, wood block, percussion, waterphone);
Octavio Bailly, Jr. (vocals, bass);
Claudio Slon (vocals, synthesizer, drums, water drum, timabales, percussion);
Larry Williams (saxophone, flute);
Steve Huffsteter,
Gene Goe (trumpet, flugelhorn);
Mike Julian, Frank Rosolino (trombone);
Greg Phillinganes (acoustic and electric pianos); Lee Ritenour (guitar).

——————–

Nothing mind-blowing here but this is a solid record from a guy with a lot more album credits than he has records as a bandleader.  Having played with Brazilian greats like Elza Soares and Martinha da Vila, by this time Paulinho da Costa was well entrenched in the slick LA jazz studio-musician scene.  That slickness threatens to over saturate this entry on the Pablo label but Paulinho’s energy on percussion manages to pull it back from the brink more often than not.  The opening “S’imbora” may not hook you immediately with its crystalline jazz-funk fusion but by the end of it you would be hard-pressed not to admit they are cooking something savory.  “Terra” is one of two percussion-centric cuts here, this one consisting of a dinner-party Santeria or Candomblé groove; the other, “Ritmo Number One” is a samba freakout and easily the most energetic thing on the album.  “Toledo Bagel” lets Paulinho prove his mettle as a salsero.  “Berimbau Variations” is more than what its title implies. It opens up with an otherworldly swell of notes and features an interesting flute riff in a pretty tightly-composed piece clocking in a three and a half minutes.  The band here are all more than capable but somewhat lifeless and restrained for the material, perhaps due to their California studio habitus they just can’t manage to break out.  Keys player Greg Phillinganes (who has some sweet credits with Roy Ayers, Syreeta, Harvey Mason and others) gets some good runs on the electric piano but doesn’t really cut it playing salsa on the acoustic piano.  Larry Williams (Seawind, Shiela E., Michael Jackson) has a nice solo on “Belisco” but elsewhere his playing tends towards nondescript. Steve Huffsteter (Willie Bobo, Shorty Rogers, Moacir Santos and many more) is under-utilized here in my opinion although he gets to employ his arranging skills to great effect on “Belisco.”  Lee Ritanour is still Lee Ritanour.  Drummer Cláudio Slon is a fine drummer and also played with Paulinho in Sergio Mendes’ Brasil ’77 group, so it is kind of surprising that they don’t sound more ‘in the pocket’ here.  I think the issue is the mix:  Cláudio’s drum kit is tucked away under the other instruments, foregrounding Paulinho – it is his session, after all – but I think if they had pushed him forward a few decibels it would have given the tracks more impact.  

All in all this is a strong record.  His Pablo release “Muito Bem!” with Joe Pass gets a “pass” from me in spite of seeming like it might be a promising record.  His second record as a bandleader, “Happy People” (not to be confused with the Brazilian-themed Cannonball Adderley album) is also pretty good.