One of Bossa Nova’s original exponents updates his sound with the assistance of Airto, Stanley Clark and Idris Muhammad to arrangements by Deodato. This is heavyweight Brazilian Jazz fusion with some beautiful solo guitar……….
After the initial shockwaves of Miles Davis’ seminal fusion recordings began to settle, jazz rock fusion began to become a genre unto itself. What Miles had created as a way of opening both the disciplines up to one another – in the same manner that bossa nova and rhythm and blues did in the 1960s – created a slew of musical possibilities before fusion closed in on itself in the later 1970s and became its own restrictive genre, full of sterile, workmanlike chops, and endlessly repetitive rhythmic constructs. But perhaps no one, not even Weather Report’s Joe Zawinul or Creed Taylor at CTI realized the full aesthetic and panoramic potential of fusing seemingly disparate elements together in an entirely new tapestry, the way that Brazilian composer and guitarist Luiz Bonfá did on Jacarandá in 1973. His collaborators, producer John Wood and arranger/conductor Eumir Deodato, assembled a huge cast of musicians in both New York and Los Angeles, and came up with nothing short of a grooving, blissed-out masterpiece of fusion exotica. The cast of players is in and of itself dizzying: Airto, Deodato, Bonfá on acoustic guitars, Stanley Clarke, Wood, Mark Drury, Ray Barretto, John Tropea (on electric guitars), Bill Watrous, Randy Brecker, Idris Muhammad, Jerry Dodgion, Sonny Boyer, Phil Bodner, Maria Toledo, and many others – including full string and horn sections. The ambitious Deodato charts opened up the principals and brought hard Afro-Cuban rhythms, softer Brazilian ones, funky riffing soul and R&B interludes, and classical themes and variations, as well as sophisticated jazz harmonics and syncopation to a collection of tunes by Bonfá and others. Sound like a mess? Hardly. This is one of the most disciplined and ambitions recordings to be issued during that decade. Here Bonfá’s gorgeous palette of samba and bossa melodies is married to film score dynamics, lush romantic cadenzas, smoking jazz grooves and cultured extrapolations of folk and popular music schemas. creating a stunning mosaic of color, release, pastoral elegance and bad-ass, intoxicating, polyrhythmic Latin soul vistas. While the entire album flows form front to back with seamless ease, there are a few standouts. The opener, “Apache Talk,” features Barretto’s congas creating a bottom for Muhammad’s brushes and snare, as Clarke’s bass plays one note insistently and hypnotically before Wood’s Rhodes and finally Bonfá’s 12-string come shimmering in with a funky urgency that is underscored by Tropea’s bluesy fills. When the horns finally enter, the entire thing is popping and grooving on its own punchy axis. It’s a wonder that Gilles Peterson hasn’t picked up on this cut yet. Elsewhere, Bonfá’s velvety tropical read of Enriqué Granados’ “Dance No. 5,” with its slippery classical guitar and extended harmonic palette, is a whispering wonder of sensual delight. The minor-key riffing in “Strange Message” that becomes a full-blown soundtrack-esque anthem is a wonder, and the jazzy soul of the title track with Drury’s popping stand-up bass playing counterpoint to Bonfá’s 12-string before Muhammad and Wood kick it on the funky side is breathtaking (Man, if Ralph Towner could only play 12-string like this, he might have been a contender!), Review by Eli Schoop ………………………….
To many, jazz has always been seen as a form of music based on technicality and instrumentality. It’s not rare to have excessively long solos and shows of skill in otherwise brilliant displays of musical prowess, tediously lengthening the song to the point where it’s gratuitous. Even though jazz as a genre is one of the most storied in all of music culture, it isn’t nearly as popular as others due to much of its content being bloated, this being the case even for the staples of jazz. Enter Luiz Bonfa, Brazilian guitarist and jazz aficionado. After his work in the 50s and 60s with such jazz pioneers including Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto, and Eumir Deodato, Bonfa turned to jazz fusion as a way to showcase his brilliance on the guitar and lend exposure to the newfound subgenre, made renowned by Miles Davis and his recordings at the turn of the 60s. What results is one of the most sublime jazz records of the 70s, and a fantastic introduction to the world of Luiz Bonfa.
But of course, as is the jazz standard, Bonfa didn’t just record this superb album by himself. Indeed, the personnel of Jacaranda is a testament to how far collaborative efforts can bolster a creative piece. There are almost 50 musicians credited on this LP, not to mention the producers and sound mixers that weren’t directly involved in the music, but must of spent countless polishing and perfecting the album. The range of talent on Jacaranda is hugely noticeable on tracks like “Don Quixote”, where all of the instruments featured add up to a beautiful arrangement compounded by Bonfa’s exquisite guitar-playing. The flute weaves in and out, emulating a songbird, backed by the ethereal harmonic chants lending the song an air of godliness, while the congas and the bass provide a solid rhythm, bringing it back down to earth. Frankly, it’s quite remarkable that Bonfa was able to write excellent compositions while still having to direct all this talent, which speaks volumes about the amount of respect he commanded as a musician.
It then makes sense how Jacaranda, unlike many other jazz records, doesn’t feel forced or devoid of emotion. Take the Bonfa-only “Song Thoughts” as a suitable example of its earnestness. The Italian-style strumming and ambient atmosphere make it a departure from the samba-influenced fusion of the previous songs, yet it fits in between more upbeat tracks with ease, in part due to the wholly relaxing mixture of lead and rhythm guitar. “Empty Room” is another standout that breaks free of conventions and highlights how Bonfa’s mixing of genres lead to a terrific end product. The soft acoustic guitar and piano that accompanies the intro devolves into chaos, as trumpet and string section into one big jumbled mess. But the calm after the storm Bonfa induces is evident, and soon, grooves between erratic guitar and the restless rhythm section forces a thrilling yet subdued crescendo.
The record ends not with an all-out explosion of sound, but what seems like a jam session. Fitting perhaps, as this really is a love letter to jazz fusion and Bonfa utilizing all of his contemporaries on Jacaranda works masterfully. By the end of “Sun Flower”, it’s apparent that whilst straying from the commonplace sounds of jazz in that era, the work done here by Bonfa and crew fittingly crafts an album worthy of standing alongside the pinnacles of genre. Very rarely are the dynamics of the record skewed too heavily in favor of any one musician as well. Although Bonfa is obviously the star, his willingness to lend credence to others’ performances suits flawlessly Jacaranda, and even though the summation of the LP is an album with Bonfa’s name on it, he couldn’t have done it without the performances of his peers. Jacaranda certainly isn’t the only of its kind, but it has stood as the crowning achievement of Luiz Bonfa, and with an artist as accomplished as him, that’s no small feat……………
Personnel: Luiz Bonfá (guitar, vocal), Eumir Deodato (piano, electric piano, keyboards), John Wood (electric piano), Stanley Clarke (electric bass), Mark Drury (bass), Idris Muhammad (drums), Richard O'Connell (drums), Airto Moreira (percussion), Ray Barretto (conga), John Tropea (electric guitar), Sonny Boyer (tenor sax), Phil Bodner (flute, oboe, english horn, clarinet), Romeo Penque (flute, bass clarinet, baritone sax), Jerry Dodgion (flute, alto sax), Randy Brecker (trumpet, flugelhorn), Burt Collins (trumpet), John Frosk (trumpet), Marky Markowitz (trumpet), Marvin Stamm (trumpet, flugelhorn), Wayne Andre (trombone), Garnett Brown (trombone), Bill Watrous (trombone), Tony Studd (bass trombone), Jim Buffington (french horn), Peter Gordon (french horn), Harry Lookofsky (violin), Harry Cykman (violin), Max Ellen (violin), Paul Gershman (violin), Emanuel Green (violin), Harry Katzman (violin), Harold Kohon (violin), Joe Malin (violin), David Nadien (violin), Gene Orloff (violin), Elliot Rosoff (violin), Irving Spice (violin), Alfred Brown (viola), Harold Coletta (viola), Selwart Clark (viola), Emanuel Vardi (viola), Charles McCracken (cello), George Ricci (cello), Alan Shulman (cello), Gloria Lanzarone (cello), Alvin Brehm (arco bass), Russell Savakus (arco bass), Sonia Burnier (vocal), and Maria Helena Toledo (vocals)
A1 Apache Talk
A3 Gentle Rain
A4 You Or Not To Be
A5 Strange Message
B1 Don Quixote
B2 Song Thoughts
B3 Danse V
B4 Empty Room
B5 Sun Flower