Two excellent new albums take radically divergent approaches to Latin music traditions. Veteran jazz drummer Duduka Da Fonseca (of Trio da Paz and numerous other groups) leads a new combo in a sparkling collection fusing jazz and Brazilian rhythms. Guitarist Russ Hewitt and guests deliver a set of melodic original tunes featuring stupendous soloing over a variety of satisfying Latin beats.
Duduka Da Fonseca & Quarteto Universal – Yes!!!
Duduka Da Fonseca & Quarteto Universal came together only last year, but their debut album stands as one of the most exciting new jazz collaborations of the pandemic/post-pandemic era. New-project enthusiasm is palpable in every note, and so is the truth of what Fonseca writes in the liner notes: “We didn’t have to overstate the traditional Brazilian grooves, because I believe that these grooves are already there, floating around.”
Those grooves merge grippingly, yet with an almost magical ease, with virtuosic bebop in eye-opening takes on numbers by the likes of Milton Nascimento and Antônio Carlos Jobim as well as by members of the band. Da Fonseca and pianist Helio Alves duet furiously in “Transition,” while Nascimento’s “Lilia” inspires both the leader and guitarist Vinicius Gomes to dizzying heights of rhythmic dexterity.
In the ballad “Montreux” bassist Gili Lopes develops the track’s childlike melodicism into a sophisticated dish for the team to dig into. Da Fonseca undergirds the dénouement with startling patterning. Alves channels a bit of Vince Guaraldi in his own “Bebe,” which begins in easygoing style, features a crackling solo from Gomes, and builds to a psychedelic jam-band finish. The relentless “Exodo” is a Gomes co-write that becomes a feature for the guitarist’s own vicious soloing, while under a tense piano ostinato Da Fonseca seemingly invents new rhythmic ideas in every measure.
The drummer, who has recorded with everyone from David Amram and Rufus Reid to Astrud Gilberto and Jobim himself, is no slouch as a composer either, closing the album with his own melodic and bracing “Dona Maria,” a tune that echoes the feel of the friendly “Samba Novo” that opens the set.
Don’t be lulled by the substantial solos the leader grants himself in the first couple of tracks; this is a collaborative project in every way. And if you care to listen for the Brazilian rhythms and melodic sense, they’re definitely there. This music takes tradition and turns it into something remarkably high-flying, original, accessible, a pure joy for both the casual and the critical listener.
Look for Yes!!!, a Sunnyside Records release, on October 21, 2022 on all major streaming platforms.
Russ Hewitt – Chasing Horizons
Russ Hewitt’s new album sits at a point on the spectrum of Latin-themed instrumental music far removed from Duduka Da Fonseca’s. On Chasing Horizons the gifted guitarist fuses fingerboard fireworks with a range of Latin styles. Not hogging the spotlight, he welcomes guests including Nuno Bettencourt, Jorge Strunz, Ardeshir Farah, Tri Nguyen (playing the Vietnameses đàn tranh zither), and Marty Friedman of Megadeth.
The moods range from rejoicing to introspection, but it’s easy to sink into the grooves on all these original tunes – grooves both graceful and chunky, sometimes at the same time. Whether in 5/4 or 7/4 time or straightforward familiar meters and beats, these sambas, rumbas, guajiras and tangos support gliding melodies and riffs that act as foundations for spectacular solos from Hewitt and his guest string-wizards. Together they deliver a cornucopia of nylon radiance.
Chasing Horizons is out now.