Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luiz Bonfa, Baden Powell, Ivan Lins... add now the name Joan Griffith, guitarist/bassist/mandolinist/composer who lives in the Twin Cities but whose heart beats in Rio, Sao Paulo and Bahia. From her first fascination with Brazilian rhythms as a teen in Nebraska to the college classrooms where she teaches jazz performance and composition, Joan has inhaled the warmth of bossa nova and choro, exhaling a personal fusion of the African, European and Amerindian traditions that define the soul of Brazil.
Sambanova is not only the work of a gracefully lyrical performer but a showcase of Joan’s compositions that infuse the poetry and rhythms of Brazilian forms with modern jazz idioms.
And one can not imagine a more sympathetic partner than Laura Caviani, a pianist of exceptional range whose uncanny rhythmic sense and soulful eclecticism offer the perfect musical bond to Joan’s guitar. Of Laura, Joan notes that “I have always loved her playing, her time is impeccable, her solos are breathtaking, but most of all she always plays with her whole heart and soul and with love.” On six of the ten tracks, the due is complemented by master percussionist Cyro Baptista, who Joan describes as “one of the world\'s great ambassadors of Brazilian music.”
It has been more than a decade since Joan’s last recording, a duo with vocalist Lucia Newell, Enter You, Enter Love, which showcased several of Joan’s tunes and standards arranged with a Brazilian flair. Inspiration for the largely original Sambanova, says Joan, came from a guitar/piano recording by Cesar Camargo Mariano and Helio Delmira of Mariano’s “Samambaia.” In addition to “Samambaia,” Joan included arrangements of Jobim’s “Triste” (a haunting bossa nova) and Joao Lyra’s “Pauleando,” an energetic example of the rhythmically jagged “frevo” style of northeastern Brazil.
The seven original tracks pay homage to the musical heroes of Brazil through the heart and mind of Joan Griffith: Opening with “Sambanova No. 1 in C,” Joan fulfills her goal to introduce the recording with “a tune that was upbeat, confident, swinging, a little bluesy...” as well as one that highlights the interplay of guitar and piano, Joan and Laura weaving back and forth with a joy that enhances anticipation for all that follows. “I must have been in a Getz/Gilberto mood” says Joan of her gentle bossa nova, “La Bellevue,” named for the Nebraska town where she spent her teens. No percussion on this track, just two voices, one soul. The Moorish tapestry of “Joan’s Baiao” gives this dance form, rooted in Brazil’s rural northeast, the composer’s intended “relentless and mysterious feeling,” highlighted by a darkly romantic collaboration among piano and percussion.
The widely emotive form, “Choro” can mean to sing or cry, and here Joan moves us to both, a slow dance in which piano and classical guitar alternately tug the heart. Another baiao, this one from the arid “Sertao” region, has an air of majestic melancholy enhanced by the addition of Joan’s mandolin. Joan based her “Sambanova No.2 in F Minor” on a slow bossa written by her brother Marshall, taking it in a faster, blusier, samba direction. Cyro adds a magical shimmer on pandeiro. Let’s dance! “Samba for Jacob” closes this remarkable set, a tribute to the great choro mandolinist Jacob Bittencourt, aka Jacob do Bandolim. Says Joan, “I wanted to capture his spirit and send the listener off with a little ectasy.”
Sambanova and the pen of Joan Griffith give us ten moments of ecstasy.