Brazilian jazz is often so bouncy and breezy on its surface that it’s easy to overlook how complex it is, particularly the rhythmic undercurrents. The genre also has plenty of variations, many of which are on display throughout Blues Alley’s Brazilian jazz series (which closes Tuesday with the decidedly intense trumpeter Claudio Roditi). Indeed, several degrees were on display Wednesday night in just one act: Trio da Paz, a Brazilian supergroup comprising guitar, bass and drums.
Frequently the trio projected the easygoing facade of samba and bossa nova. On occasion, though, the curtain was pulled back to demonstrate just how difficult this music is.
Guitarist Romero Lubambo most embodied the former approach: Even when his playing sounded impossibly intricate, he made it look simple. On the ballad “Look to the Sky,” he played an intro of very light chords; bassist Nilson Matta followed, playing the on-beats, as did drummer Duduka da Fonseca, with pretty brushstrokes.
As the tune progressed, it seemed basic enough, with Matta taking a guitarlike solo before Lubambo settled into a long, lyrical journey, unless you scrutinized. Matta’s melodic lines maintained the bossa-nova lilt quite nimbly, never once ceding time to the drums (though da Fonseca took up sticks to tap cross-rhythms on his ride cymbal). As for Lubambo, his delicate runs were played without a pick: a finger-tangling technical feat.
The illusion went along beautifully. The opening tune, “Saudade de Bahia,” was a cool-toned one with a firm-held groove from the whole trio. Lubambo and Matta, though, challenged that synergy soon enough. The guitarist’s work on the theme was built from studious eighth notes, keeping the pace even and tight. But it paved the way for Matta to immediately loosen it with his hard-swinging solo, Lubambo then picking up that feel where the bassist left off. Their labors began to show on Matta’s “Baden,” a bossa nova. Da Fonseca’s skittery brushes often crowded out the bass glide, and Matta’s solo was a virtuosic one that shifted too quickly to seem effortless.
Two of Trio da Paz’s pieces were beyond disguising. “Dona Maria,” a da Fonseca tune based on John Coltrane’s “Impressions,” had all the wild energy of its inspiration, especially when the drummer pounded out a solo of frenetic riffs (and a few bombs for good measure). The closer, Lubambo’s “P’ro Flavio,” featured another intense drum solo, along with a confounding rhythmic approach from Matta. The guitarist, meanwhile, had a deliriously sophisticated workout that sounded to my American ears like a blend of flamenco and bluegrass. When I remarked on that to my companion — a guitarist and world traveler — he replied: “It’s how they play on the beaches in Brazil. But most of them are not as good as this.”
West is a freelance writer.