Wednesday, June 26, 2002


by Wayne Robins

The blood pressure was too high, the medication wasn't working, so my doctor and I decided on a few days in the hospital last week to straighten things out. Since it wasn't an emergency and no surgery was involved, I packed as if going on a trip, spending more time pondering the CD's I would pack with my Walkman than any other item.

I didn't want anything too stressful. Haunted as I've been by the recent opening of a very old wound, I needed to avoid not only current heavy music, but many of my favorites that would resonate with stressful memory. (I've been listening to Laura Nyro's Columbia Legacy reissues recently, and favorite songs like "Lucky" and "Lu," from "Eli and the Thirteenth Confession" are so redolent with the memory of a joy that always remained just out of reach that hearing these songs now can reduce me to uncontrolled sobbing.

Yet I've never been a new age person, never been able to listen to music whose only goals are "pretty" and "innocuous." I packed up a bunch of things in the CD kit: Guy Clark's "Boats to Build" (Elektra) has been my profound companion through difficult times, and a Van Morrison like "Too Long in Exile" had a wide enough palette of moods to make the trip.

But I've been on a Brazilian jag lately, and Brazilian music is what I listened to almost every time I put on the headphones while in Lenox Hill. It helps that I don't know much about Brazilian music, so I can't intellectualize it. It has few emotional connotations, and occupies very little disc space on my brain's memory chip.

The duet CD "Vince & Bola," on the Fantasy label by Vince Guaraldi and Bola Sete, got the most headplay. It's a wonderful set piano and guitar interplay augmented by Fred Marshall on the first five tracks and drummer Jerry Granelli on 6 through 12. The disc is a compendium of two earlier Fantasy discs, recorded in 1963 and 1966, respectively. Material is all over the map, from "Black Orpheus Suite" to Horace Silver's "Moon Rays" to Lennon-McCartney's "I'm A Loser" to Hank Mancini's "The Days of Wine and Roses." But nothing shakes the context, the comfort and accomplishment level of the musicians.

Though many of the records Creed Taylor produced for his CTI label in the 1970s came to define all that was wrong with fusion (dissonance between artist and material, between material and arrangement), Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Stone Flower" (recently reissued by Sony Legacy is a significant exception. I don't have the credits handy, but its both lush and lean, an intelligent, dreamy soundtrack for active meditation.

The third disc upon which I relied wasn't quite a Brazilian disc, though the newly released "Sounds from the Verve Hi-Fi," astutely cherry-picked from the Verve catalog by deejays Eric Hilton and Rob Garza of the Thievery Corporation, features plenty of gems, familiar and obscure. Stan Getz and Luiz Bonfa set the mood with "Menina Flor," and there are goodies by Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66, undergoing a renaissance as their savory stuff stands up in ways that the music of their contemporaries, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, does not. Astrud Gilberto's "Light My Fire" is, counterintuitively, a paradigm of cool, while cuts by Elis Regina and Walter Wanderley were new to me. A couple of real smart oddities from the brilliant Cal Tjader catalog only reinforced my admiration. To top everything off, there's a non-Brazilian track by Chico Hamilton called "For Mods Only" that Steely Dan obsessives will immediately note provides the chordal foundation for "Kid Charlegmagne" in much the way Horace Silver's "Song for My Father" inspires "Rikki Don't Lose That Number."

Thanks to Daniella Thompson
for her e-mails that may have subconsciously started my Brazilian journey. And though the green team didn't look as sharp in beating Turkey today as they might have, I'm looking for the Copa Mundial to belong to Brazil (over Germany) when Sunday morning's coming down.

(c) copyright 2002 Wayne Robins all rights reserved. Comments?

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