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Music Reviews: Antonio Adolfo – ‘Samba Jazz Alley’, Gretje Angell – ‘…in any key’

Antonio Adolfo – ‘Samba Jazz Alley’

Brazilian pianist and arranger Antonio Adolfo takes inspiration from memories of his youthful immersion in what he describes as a “cauldron of jazz”: a Copacabana alley nicknamed Beco das Garrafas. The result is an outstanding album of Latin jazz. Charged with sophisticated, infectious grooves, Samba Jazz Alley kicks off with quirky rhythms, fluid solos, and and sunny melodies in “Ceu e Mar” (“Sky and Sea”). The track sets a bright, playful tone for the whole album, and features strong statements from the rhythm section as well.

Things get even better from there, beginning with Adolfo’s own thoughtful tribute to Herbie Hancock. “Hello, Herbie” boasts a smooth hepcat vibe, a tastefully laid-back solo from the pianist, and a thrilling drum feature at the close.

“So por Amor” (“Just for Love”) sounds, in Adolfo’s arrangement, as romantic and sad as the title suggests, with rich horn harmonies, and deft leads from trombonist Rafael Rocha.

The slowly building, syncopated excitement of “Casa Forte” with its scintillating trumpet solo by Jess Sadoc gives way to the mournful yet still sweetly groovy “Tristeza de Nos Doi” with its dueling harmonicas. It’s as if Adolfo and his ensemble can’t stay in a down mood even when they try. “The Frog,” a 1960s hit for Sergio Mendes, gets a gravelly, half-tongue-in-cheek treatment – pure fun.

Adolfo’s own “Obrigado” features beautifully conceived trumpet and sax solos, impressively intricate work from the rhythm section, and horn riffs that sound both original and timeless. (And how often do you hear bass and trombone trade fours?)

Two Antonio Carlos Jobim tunes cap off the album. Through the lens of Adolfo’s arrangements, you can feel like you’re hearing the songs of Brazil’s most famous songwriter for the first time, though these tracks are also loving tributes. The rhythmic precision of drummer Rafael Barata and bassist Jorge Helder are particularly rewarding in “Passarim.” Adolfo’s soft touch on the piano, Sadoc’s gentle flugelhorn, and saxophonist Marcelo Martins’ alto flute solo keep “Corcovado” mellow and grounded.

Samba Jazz Alley is a keeper. Available now, it’s going not only onto my computer, but into my road-trip playlist for sure.

Gretje Angell – ‘…in any key’

Gretje Angell‘s debut album came to my rescue on a stressful recent morning. Her silky vocals on this compact set of nine jazz standards, masterfully backed by Dori Amarilio on acoustic guitar, could ease just about any troubled mind.

gretje angell in any key

There are a few unorthodox feel choices. A winsome ballad treatment of “Tea for Two” and a dervish-speed take on “Them There Eyes” close the album. But, sometimes bolstered by other fine players, Angell and Amarilio make everything sound natural as pie. I even grooved to the scat-singing in “I’m Old Fashioned,” and I have little tolerance for scatting.

Angell never for a second sounds like she’s trying too hard or aiming for effect. She sinks into a cool, creamy, but still nicely tense version of “Fever” as if the song were a comfortable old sofa, backed by a smooth rhythm section and in-the-pocket organ from Quinn Johnson. Another highlight, and the album’s only real surprise, is “Berimbau,” an Astrid Gilberto number from the ’60s.

Without over-emoting, Angell displays a real feel for lyrics, especially in romantic tunes (“Deep in a Dream,” “One Note Samba”). She also shows a facility for language with her understated, dextrous delivery of the Portuguese in “Berimbau.”

Amarilio is equally adept on electric guitar as on acoustic, as he proves in “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me.” But the choice to focus this project around the acoustic guitar was a wise one; the softer sounds meld beautifully with Angell’s vocal strengths. The last third of the album, in fact, is a guitar-and-vocals-only mini-set (“One Note Samba,” “Tea for Two,” “Them There Eyes”). That last track, at just over two minutes, is bound to put a smile on your face – even if you’re not having a stressful morning.

…in any key is available now at CD Baby.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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