I must confess that before receiving a copy of Brazilian drummer Duduka Da Fonseca’s latest album for review, I was unfamiliar with his previous work – and that is my loss. Not only has he been playing with some of the biggest names in the jazz pantheon—Gerry Mulligan, Herbie Mann, Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano, among others—and toured with his world-renowned countrymen Antonio Carlos Jobim and Astrud Gilberto, but his 2009 CD, Brazilian Trio – Forests, was nominated for a Latin Grammy. A musician with that kind of resume should not fall below the radar.
More importantly a musician that can come up with a musical treat like his newly released Duduka Da Fonseca Trio Plays Toninho Horta demands attention. Joining the drummer on this set, originally recorded back in 2009, are pianist David Feldman and bassist Guto Wirtti, both of whom he had worked with when they played on an album for Brazilian sax player Paulo Levi. Reflecting on that session in the liner notes, Fonseca says, “We started the session and I said to myself, ‘Wow!! This rhythm session sounds so right!! It feels like a walk on Ipanema Beach.’” Back in New York, he goes on, he thought it would be a good idea to do a trio project with them, and he was absolutely right. Feldman is a dynamic young pianist with a lyrical sensitivity and Wirtti handles the bass with finesse.
Fonseca’s next big idea, as he continues to explain it, was to devote their record to the music of Brazilian singer/songwriter/guitarist Toninho Horta. While Horta may not have the same kind of worldwide recognition accorded to the likes of Jobim, Fonseca says that he “touches my heart with his amazing music.” Indeed, you can hear it in their playing. Horta’s music and Fonseca’s trio seem a perfect fit. Horta, himself, writes that they transformed his songs “into true instrumental pearls,” and adds, “the conceptual innovations of groove, melodic interpretation and form left me truly enchanted.”
Listen to “Aqui,Oh!,” the first of nine tracks on the album and then listen to Horta’s own version on Myspace and you’ll get some idea of the kind of transformation he’s talking about. They play down the dance rhythm and turn it into a vehicle for some inventive solo improvisation by Feldman. Indeed, Feldman’s sensitive phrasing is front and center on nearly all of the tracks. More often than not Fonseca himself is content to remain in the background. The only lengthy drum solo is on the album’s last song, “Retrato Do Gato,” an uptempo swinger that also features some nice interaction between drummer and pianist. Wirtti gets a chance to highlight the bass in the intense, atmospheric ballad “Moonstone.” He also gets in some licks on the upbeat “Francisca.” “De Ton Pra Tom” has the sound of something out of the Great American Songbook while “Luisa” takes you right back to its Brazilian roots.
If you like your jazz on the mellow side with a Latin vibe, this is an album you’ll want to listen to. Horta’s music and the Fonseca’s trio: this is a marriage made if not in heaven then at least on a heavenly beach.