More from Bill Cunliffe, composer
...three moods I experienced when I was in Brazil in 1994 recording my third CD, “Bill in Brazil,” for Warner/Discovery Records.
The new version is expanded thematically and formally. It is written for soprano saxophone, piano, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, three French horns, timpani, cymbals, Latin percussion, mallet percussion, harp, celesta and strings.
The saxophonist is expected to improvise as well as to play the substantial solo part provided, which Dick Oatts does extremely well. He is quite gifted at superimposing triplet and sixteenth-note rhythms over the basic eighth-note pulse, and often it’s hard to tell which parts he is improvising and which were written out.
The first movement, “Samba,” written in a traditional ternary form, has a bass line that gives more of a contemporary Brazilian feel than in a typical samba. The mood is alternately somber and light but always hinting at the samba beat. The introduction hints at a 7/4 cross-rhythm that reappears in the third movement. The themes as they unfold use Brazilian popular rhythms, but in their harmonic intensity they frequently blur the line between jazz and classical music. The cadenza is by Oatts.
The second movement, “Improvisation,” somewhat contrarily has almost no improvisation in it. The title refers to the composition method; the main body of the piece was initially fully improvised into music sequencing software. The main theme, more lyrical than motivic, appears first in the piano after the dreamy introduction and then is given to the saxophone and woodwinds. The moody second theme is handled largely by the bassoon and low strings, somewhat in the way that João Gilberto would often play his murky bass lines with the lower strings of his guitar. The main theme makes a brief reappearance, and then the orchestra sideslips into a pointillistic reverie, with Oatts improvising over the top.
The third movement, “Choro,” takes its name from the traditional Brazilian instrumental dance, which used flute, guitar and cavaquinho (a small soprano guitar popular in South America). The main theme is very choro-like in its intensity and rapid eighth-note patter; the second theme is calmer melodically but contains much of the same rhythmic and harmonic energy. Oatts improvises on the second theme, building to a recurrence of the 7/4 rhythm of the first movement, which he also “blows” over. The piece builds to a climax, leading to a piano cadenza. The main theme is recapitulated and extended, leading to a rhythmic ostinato over a modal vamp that hints at a samba school gone awry; this gives Oatts yet another opportunity to comment on the proceedings.
The choro returns, this time played by a woodwind band, leading to the coda announcing the end of the dance, the samba school marching out of sight, fading into the distance.