With its origins in 19th century Rio, the Brazilian musical form known as choro has all but faded from modern consciousness. Most of the focus with respect to regional music is on the popular bossa nova, but the almost jubilant, rapid style exemplified by the likes of Pixinguinha and Joaquim Antônio da Silva Callado still has a place in our broader experience.
Enter Grupo Falso Baiano. The Bay Area quartet is “arguably the only working choro ensemble in North America.” Featuring Zack Pitt-Smith (saxophones and flute), Jesse Appelman (mandolin), Brian Moran (seven-string guitars), and Ami Molinelli (percussion), the group’s Simplicidade: Live at Yoshi’s enlists the assistance of the legendary Jovino Santos Neto (piano, accordion and flute). Brian Rice (percussion) also sits in.
The band debuted with Viajando: Choro e Jazz, a 2009 release that drew American influences into the Brazilian form. In this regard, Simplicidade is a more extensive work in that it includes a Northeastern amalgam along with notes of traditional jazz. “Simplicidade is about stretching out, both on stage and stylistically,” explains Molinelli.
Interestingly, the word choro translates into a “cry” or “lament” in Portuguese. Listening to the rapid pace and happy rhythms, it’s hard to gather that there’s a whole lot of crying going on here. Yet this early form of Brazilian urban music, characterized by counterpoint and syncopation, carries a surprising amount of emotional weight.
In front of the crowd at Yoshi’s, Falso Baiano is on-point. They commit fully to traditional pieces by the likes of Nelson Cavaquinho and Norival Bahia, as well as the aforementioned Pixinguinha. There are also a number of compositions by Santos Neto, including the beautifully contemplative “Rosa Cigana.”
Hysterically, the very name of Grupo Falso Baiano references a false Bahian. This is a cheeky nod to someone “trying to pass off” as a native of Bahia, the heart and soul of Afro-Brazilian music and culture. With this, the group comically plays off the notion of not being Brazilian and offers another thread of curiosity and oomph to their work.
Their playfulness is evident on pieces like “Deixa o Breque,” a Sivuca original that features some wicked mandolin work from Appelman. The playing gets exceptionally wild; it’s just a treat to hear the vivacious exchange between the mandolin and Pitt-Smith’s flute.
Whether through fetching piano flourishes (“Doce de Côco”) or Santos Neto’s delightful but uncommon accordion-playing (“Forró na Penha”), Grupo Falso Baiano does choro justice with Simplicidade. And if the grateful crowd at Yoshi’s is any indication, this is one artistic endeavour that stands at the precipice of popularity once again.