Simplicidade: Live at Yoshi's
The Bay Area's Grupo Falso Baiano Brings the Unheard Brazil to the US While bossa nova has become an inextricable ingredient in modern jazz, Brazil's earlier instrumental style choro remains relatively unknown in North America, even to dedicated fans of Latin music. The Bay Area quartet Grupo Falso Baiano, arguably the only working choro ensemble in America, has forged a tremendously exciting sound by drawing deeply from both the vast body of choro standards and contemporary Brazilian composers inspired by choro. The group's second album "Simplicidade: Live at Yoshi's" captures the band in full flight, playing with insouciant power, passion and precision. If the band's 2009 debut "Viajando: Choro e Jazz" introduced the quartet's unabashedly American take on the Brazilian form, "Simplicidade" casts a wider net, throwing same tangy Northeastern grooves into an already savory mix. 'Simplicidade' opens with a set of three classic pieces by choro's most influential 20th century composers. "Caminhando" is a sprightly, joyful tune by 1930s samba legend Nelson Cavaquinho and Norival Bahia, a tightly arranged number featuring the quartet. The title track is a lean and lithe setting of a choro favorite by Jacob do Bandolim, who revived the style in the 1940s. While "Simplicidade" starts off with a melancholy air, by the end the mood brightens as the groove picks up pulse-quickening momentum. On the next three pieces, the band expands to a sextet with the addition of Santos Neto and percussionist Brian Rice, an essential component of mandolin master Mike Marshall's Choro Famoso project. Based on a maxixe, a style from the late 19th century, Pixinguinha's "Cheguei" turns into a showcase for Pitt-Smith's buoyant countermelodies and the interlocking grooves of Rice's pandeiro and Molinelli's Crush-bottle reco-reco. The energy on the bandstand reaches critical mass with Santos Neto's "Feira Livre," a tune that's been in GFB's repertoire for years. After a discursive piano intro with a winking "Nutcracker Suite" quote, the band launches into the irresistible baiao, a celebratory Northeastern style that Santos Neto explored on his 2007 Adventure Music album "Alma do Nordeste" (Soul of the Northeast). It's a blowing vehicle that offers Pitt-Smith a chance to dig in on soprano sax. Santos Neto joins Pitt-Smith on flute on his piece "Kenny e Voce," a tune powered by the traditional Northeastern forro rhythm section with Molinelli laying down a thumping bass line on zabumba while Rice provides the pinging metallic foil on triangle. The album's beating heart is the piano/soprano sax duet on "Rosa Cigana," the premiere of a ravishing Santos Neto ballad that he wrote for his wife. With it's long, flowing melody "Bem Brasil" is a flute feature for Pitt-Smith, an intricate piece that's beloved in choro jam sessions. Santos Neto is back at the piano on the lilting "Doce de Coco," another ingenious Jacob do Bandolim standard that's sandwiched between two pieces by Sivuca, the great accordionist and composer who gained fame in the 1950s for his sophisticated, jazz-infused forros. On the feverishly dance-inducing closer "Forro na Penha" Santos Neto makes a rare public foray on accordion, digging in to the piece's extended harmonies. No matter what instrument he's on, Santos Neto brings out the best from GFB, not so much by challenging the band as by meeting them half way as a Brazilian musician besotted with jazz.