Brazilian popular music has enjoyed international prestige since the early sixties, when Bossa Nova was embraced by American jazzmen and became a worldwide phenomenon. This turn of events surprised even the most optimistic Brazilians. But aside from Bossa Nova there are many other attractive Brazilians styles, although lesser known by American audiences. Those who discovered the flood of constantly evolving Brazilian styles have experienced an amazing, ever reinvigorating sonic ride.
Guitarist Joe Carter discovered Brazilian music when he played two weeks at People Jazz Club, in Rio de Janeiro, in 1988. At that time he heard and played with several local important musicians and gradually became highly interested in every Brazilian musical branch of music. Fascinated by the music and the varied sounds of Brazil, Joe started to listen to everything he could, always expanding his knowledge. After all these years of buying records, hearing, playing, searching, studying and reading about Brazilian music, Joe has become one of the most knowledgeable minds about the subject. As a matter of fact, he knows much more about Brazilian music than most Brazilians and he could be honored with the medal of Brazilian Honorary Citizen. Bassist David Finck has nicknamed him “Antonio Carlos Joe Carter.”
Being in constant touch with Joe I’ve noticed that his knowledge covers a large Brazilian musical territory, not only Bossa Nova, but also samba, baiao, frevo, and his large interest in the many pioneers like Pixinguinha, Noel Rosa, Ary Barroso, Dorival Caymmi and Luiz Gonzaga and also the moderns like Joao Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Sergio Mendes, Joao Donato, Johnny Alf, Tamba Trio, Zimbo Trio, Mauricio Einhorn, Baden Powell and many more. He knows and plays songs, most of which are long forgotten in Brazil. Joe Carter is a dedicated, intelligent and sophisticated musician. During the course of his career he has recorded and/ or performed with Jazz artists such as Art Farmer, Lee Konitz, Cecil Payne, Rufus Reid, Harvie Swartz, Akira Tana, Don Friedman, Hendrik Meurkens, Steve Kuhn, Eddie Bert, Mike Longo, Bill Hardman, Junior Cook, Jamil Nasser and Al Harewood among others; and with Brazilian artists such as Mauricio Einhorn, Robertinho Silva, Luiz Eca, Paulo Russo, Joao Cortez, Claudio Caribe, Alosio Aguiar, Nilson Matta, Portinho, Jehovah de Gaita and others. Aside from his musical playing, Joe is currently an instructor at Sacred Heart University and Hartford Conservatory, both in Connecticut, where he specializes in guitar, world music and Jazz courses, and teaches privately in his studio in New York. He also has written four textbooks for guitar.
Joe’s gift for Brazilian music can be in two great records, Um Abraco No Rio, recorded in Rio de Janeiro with local musicians, and The Samba Rio Trio, also with Brazilian sidemen, but made in New York. Now you have in your hands his third Brazilian effort – Two For Two – in duo with Brazilian bassist Nilson Matta. This CD focuses on Brazilian classics from the 1930s through the 60s and also contains several originals. As it happened on his previous records, this one is full of beautiful music and many surprises. It took me several hearings to catch the many nuances, inflections and variations of Joe’s playing and his improvising with feeling, understanding, respect and genuine love of the music, superbly accompanied by Nilson. The bassist’s background and experience covers a lot of territory from Brazilian, Jazz and popular music. He has lived in New York since 1985 and is a part of the renown group Trio da Paz, with guitarist Romero Lubambo and drummer Duducka da Fonseca. He has played and/ or recorded with Herbie Mann, Toots Thielemans, Joe Henderson, Gato Barbieri, Hendrik Meurkens, Harry Allen and Don Pullen, among many others.
Joe and Nilson are no strangers. They’ve been playing together for several years, which explains the astonishing interplay between them: full of surprises and exciting moments. To begin with, the choice of songs shows Joe’s vast knowledge of Brazilian music and an impeccable sense of taste that breathes new life into old songs without compromising their timeless beauty. How many would choose Noel Rosa’s Feitio de Oracao and Feitico da Vila along with Jobim’s Luciana and Carlos Lyra’s Influencia do Jazz in the same record? The repertoire is very well balanced. Joe’s originals, Papa’s Baiao and Olinda, Nilson’s Nascente and Mauricio Einhorn’s Do You Remember that Picture, Chicao? are perfect foils for the Brazilian standards.
Feitio de Oracao is my personal favorite of all Noel Rosa songs. The great rapport between Joe and Nilson abounds on this one, especially in the exchanges near the end. One more time Joe’s feeling for Brazilian music is fully expressed in this one, and throughout the song he gracefully bends the melody around a constant movement of chords.
Papa’s Baiao is the real find of the album. As its title implies it is a baiao, a Northeast Brazilian style that inspired Joe to do this excursion. The basic structure of the tune requires only minimal modernization to sound anything but old-fashioned, showing he absorbed the real spirit of the baiao. Nilson establishes the right atmosphere from the beginning and his arco execution fits perfectly with the nature of the song. ”Papa’s Baiao is a departure for me. I had been listening to a lot of Northeast music after playing for a couple of weeks in Recife in 1995 and I thought it was time to write a baiao. A lot of non-musicians like this tune when they hear it,” says Joe. This one is a real tour de force and swings the most. By the way, it was the first time I heard a baiao played by a duo.
The lyrical approach of Joe’s playing extracts the best qualities of Luciana, a lovely Jobim song. “Luciana was just a great discovery for me, a Jobim tune in ¾. I played it before I actually heard the singer Elizeth Cardoso’s version. I was hearing it as a delicate waltz, similar to the Jazz tune Emily, especially Bill Evans’ version. For the intro I quoted parts of Jobim’s Ana Luiza,” explains Joe.
The mysterious and complex opening of Olinda soon gives way to a change of mood with the appearance of its gracious melody and with the swinging flowing logical lines of Joe’s solo. His playing of this samba reminds me somewhat of the interpretations of guitarists Baden Powell, Paulinho Nogueira and Raphael Rabello. Ligia is a Jobim masterpiece, a very beautiful song with its sorrowful lyrics, although nobody sings here. The guitarist’s personal approach gives a slightly different interpretation from everyone else’s to this song and Joe’s fertile imagination abounds, using several substitute chords. Nilson contributes a stimulating accompaniment.
The beginning of Influencia do Jazz is borrowed from Moonlight in Vermont. Nilson plays the melody in this great track, where Joe excels in every moment. Nothing is lacking concerning fluency, drive, personal expression and superb ideas. As any great musician, he knows the right place to quote other songs: in this case, he inserted I’ll Remember April, Ornithology, Four, Star Eyes and Saint Thomas.
Joe always loved the late, great Baden Powell, one of the foremost Brazilian guitarists. I remember when Joe met Baden Powell one night in Rio, in 1991, when he told Baden how much he was touched by his music. His admiration for Powell is expressed in Berimbau, one of his most popular compositions. The good effects in the intro emulates the berimbau sound, an instrument very popular in Bahia, a Northeast Brazilian state. Joe and Nilson take a very relaxed approach to this one, giving a refreshing and original interpretation, in contrast to other musicians who always seem to play nit with a heavy and nervous touch. “This is how I was hearing the tune. For the introduction I used an intro that Baden played for one of his other tunes, Tema Triste. I thought it would work well,” says Joe.
Feitico da Vila is a classic Noel Rosa samba, perhaps his most popular composition. The different groove of this beautiful samba is a refreshing contrast to the conception of Brazilian modern composers. Once again Joe’s flowing logical lines abound and his perennial humor appears in the quotes of There’ll Never Be Another You and the totally unexpected Estamos Ai (a popular Mauricio Einhorn composition). Both musicians modulate at the end of the tune. “I find that Noel Rosa’s tune all have a built in Brazilian “swing” to them. It’s hard to play them poorly,” comments the guitarist.
Nilson composed Nascente the day before the session in honor of Joe, saying he plays pure notes that are like a nascente, the water which comes directly from the mountains. Joe gives Nilson most of the space on this song, and the composer uses the opportunity to the best advantage.
The wizard harmonica player Mauricio Einhorn composed Do You Remember That Picture, Chicao?, a tune he performed with Joe in a concert during an American tour some years back. Nilson does the percussive effects with great skill on this swinging samba. The fours between Joe and Nilson are exciting and both musicians expertly add more percussive effects. The quote of As Time Goes By is priceless. Nilson adds his voice to the coda, conveying his and Joe’s desire for Mauricio to join them for this recording.
Estrada do Sol is another lyrical Jobim piece and this rendition gives full justice to the song, creating a beautiful atmosphere. This track must be played late at night with soft lights and some drinks, enjoying the company of the one you love.
Two For Two is a remarkable album, a tribute to Brazilian music in the best sense. The program, the performances and the artists’ personalities all must invite the listener to become a part of the music, revealing its poetry and lyricism, which was forged with love and absolute talent. It is a beautiful, honest and creative effort blended by the minds of two dedicated musicians. As long as Joe carter and Nilson Matta are willing to play, it’s certain that there will always be an audience waiting to be entertained by these gifted artists.
- Jose Domingos Raffaelli, O Globo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 2000