In the liner notes to We Remember Helen, the Roger Davidson Trio’s jazz tribute to Helen Keane (the woman best known for managing pianist Bill Evans), composer Davidson is touted as a man of many and varied musical interests. Check his website; the prolific musician divides his music not only into jazz, but concert music which he sub-divides into orchestral and chamber music, choral music and art songs, klezmer, tango, and Brazilian as well. As if to make sure we don’t forget the latter, the pianist is out this month with Journey to Rio, a new two-disc set of Brazilian music to go along with his four previous CD’s—Brazilian Love Song, Born Dia, Rodgers in Rio, and his album of children’s songs, Bingo.
Davidson put together a stellar cast of Brazilian artists for it—Marcelo Martins (tenor and soprano sax, flute), Gilmar Ferreira (trombone), Leonardo Amuedo (guitar), Sergio Barrozo (acoustic bass), Paulo Braga (drums), and Marco Lobo (percussion). The release also features the electric bass of Ney Conceicao and Rafael Barata on drums on nine of the tracks.
If you like gorgeous, lush melodies played against exotic Latin rhythms, you’ll want to travel along on Davidson’s journey. James Gavin’s liner notes explain, “As always with Roger, melody comes first.” He goes on to cite the composer: “Any music has to start with a good tune.” If nothing else, Davidson has put together an album with 28 fine tunes; each new melody is more infectious than the last.
The set features melancholy love songs like “Love Across Time,” written when he was separating from his wife. Languorous bossa novas like “Moonlight Bossa” and the aching “Sonho do Amor” also appear on the album. There are lively sambas as well as “Memories of Deborah,” a darker memorial to a friend’s wife who died of cancer.
The release also has some songs written in chorinho style, which is a fast, syncopated musical genre that (according to the liner notes) originated in 19th century Rio, to which Davidson adds a touch of ragtime. His “Minha Alegria” sounds like Scott Joplin in Brazil. And through them all, the common thread is striking melody.
Whether he is taking a witty look at classic Antonio Carlos Jobim as he does in “One Samba Note,” or adding some of the flavor of his French roots to the Brazilian spice in tunes like “Embrasse-Moi” and “Je m’en Souviens,” he is intent on stretching the forms—pushing genres in new directions. It is never jarring. These are not radical transformations. At its best, it is innovation with a subtle touch.