On Dec. 17, New York's Joe's Pub hosted the release party for the first CD issued by the fledgling Brazilian/American indie music label New Orbita. Green Heart is a compilation of instrumental Brazilian contemporary music whose stated goal is to raise environmental awareness and provide a "green" business model for music production, distribution and touring.
Headlining that night were two of the record's three luminaries: bassist Nilson Matta and flautist Zé Luis Oliveira (drummer Paulo Braga and his band complete the Green Heart compilation).
Matta kicked off the evening with one of his own compositions from the disk, an engaging samba titled "Paraty," named after the historic coastal city sited between Rio de Janiero and São Paulo. Founded in colonial times, Paraty is now green Brazil's "Emerald City," where horses and bicycles are the transportation, and parks designated as nature preserves encompass the city. With Klaus Mueller on piano and Mauricio Zottarelli on drums, Matta extended a hearty samba welcome to a city of optimism, with his nimble command of the double bass driving the upbeat melody. After deconstructing the tune with a solo improv, Matta led his trio home with a calorie-burning showcase that had him dabbing sweat from his brow.
Removing his jacket, Matta said, "I feel like a tropical bird." He began another of his compositions, "Forests," which Matta explained was inspired by the Amazon rain forest. Having established a scene of urban conviviality, the trio now entered a quieter place where melodic fragments hovered untethered from any rhythm by the bass. The piece was a narrative of exploratory intrigue, building slowly until an assertive 5/4 rhythm segued into "Green Heart," the Matta-penned title song from the compilation CD.
Matta closed his set with "Baden," his high-strutting tribute to guitarist Baden Powell. Here, the trio was lit in primary colors of red, yellow and blue with Matta and his double bass centerstage. Starting like a runaway jazzed-up carnavale, they morphed into a baroque theme that took the crowd by surprise. If Haydn had ever attempted a jazz choro, it might have sounded like this.
It was with this cheerful air that Matta finished his set, after which he introduced his friend Zé Luis, playfully describing him as "mature." Performing as the Zé Luis Quartet with Ricardo Padron on electric guitar, Ariel de la Portilla on double bass, and Kenny Grohowski on drums flautist Zé Luis began with his composition, "Theme In 7," an uptempo melodic jam propelled by hard drum accents. Zé Luis' own phrases on the flute were hard, as if he were taking bites out of his instrument instead of breathing into it. Guitarist Padron picked his way in and out of a stunning electric solo, punctuated by furious Metheny-esque runs.
Their second number was "Caminhos Cruzados," by bossa nova patriarch Antonio Carlos Jobim and another selection from the Green Heart CD. Zé Luis explained how as a child he had been a neighbor of Jobim's and that Brazil's most renowned composer had been "raising awareness about the environment before it became fashionable." Zé Luis and company delivered the song like a love letter—a slow dance, ideal for a breathy alto flute, on which Zé Luis had superb control over the lower registers.
The quartet continued with a Luis Gonzaga number, "Assum Preto," infusing its simple, gentle melody with a tinge of urgency, followed by another Jobim number, "Captain Bacardi," whose highlight was a bossa-jazz duel between Zé Luis and Padron, who summoned the voice of Wes Montgomery on his guitar.
For the set's closer, "Free Style," Zé Luis traded his flute for tenor sax and lit into the kind of Latinesque wailing that Dizzy Gillespie was so fond of. After an exchange of solos between guitar and double bass, the band made a charming segue into "Happy Birthday" on the occasion of Zé&nb