Let’s get this out of the way first: sorry, Barry Manilow fans, but the title song of this album is not the one made famous by your idol. It is instead one of the best of the original compositions provided for the album by its featured star, Brazilian bassist Nilson Matta, who named it for the beach where he first met his wife.
Copacabana, due out in early February on the Zoho label, is the latest effort from the talented Matta, one of the most respected Latin jazz musicians around. Helping present his vision are the members of his group, Brazilian Voyage, which includes Harry Allen on tenor sax, flautist Anne Drummond, pianist Klaus Mueller, percussionist Zé Mauricio, and Mauricio Zotterelli on drums.
The album is an outstanding collection of nine tracks, three featuring Brazilian standards and the balance originals, most written by Matta. The one exception, “I Can See Forever,” was contributed by saxman Allen, and it’s a good one. Not surprisingly, it allows Allen’s sax to soar in what is a lush and flavorful piece.
But Matta himself is certainly a talented composer too, as evidenced by some of the other originals. In addition to the title tune, a piece that again features some choice sax licks, I especially enjoyed “Baden,” his tribute to legendary guitarist Baden Powell. Although the group is essentially guitarless (Matta picks one up once in a while) this piece is still well-handled via the talents of pianist Mueller and percussionist Mauricio.
Matta’s “Águas Brasileiras (Brazilian Waters)” is a nicely soft and slow showcase for Mueller to show his keyboard skills, and “Pantanal” is an intesting change of pace, with Matta picking up the bow for his bass and sawing away.
Among the standards I very much liked “Asa Branca/ Baião,” a Gonzaga/Teixeira composition that faithfully captures Brazilian baiao rhythms, but best of all was a track that presented me with a new look at an old favorite. I’ve always enjoyed the Brazilian jazz/pop tune “Brazil,” written many years ago by Ari Barroso. But Matta not only presents an outstanding and melodic version, one that features some of Drummond’s best flute work, but he’s also restored the original name — “Aquarela Do Brasil (Watercolors Of Brazil).”
A solid collection from Nilson Matta and Brazilian Voyage; highly recommended — even for Manilow fans.