HABiTUS is an exploration of musical directions. It is a record of engagement with the world. Its music grinds the boundaries of contemporary jazz and often termed 'Brazilian' rhythms and styles. This music is like weaving a bridge between our intellectual and sentimental expressions. We hoped to reach a balance between healthy forms of intensity and relaxation. My intention behind the production of HABiTUS is to bridge social science and improvisational music. The idea of HABiTUS, developed by Pierre Bourdieu, has deeply influenced my academic career as a sociocultural anthropologist and multi-instrumentalist musician. This may seem like a strange combination to some, but once the seemingly unfamiliar is stripped away, the strange becomes demystified into something understood – a new paradigm, or an idiosyncratic vision – something just different in its own way.
Jazz has lately become more abstract and mathematical, rhythmically and melodically, which I do not find personally very attractive. I find that compositions by Pixinguinha and Ernesto Nazareth, – to pick a couple of examples from Choro – are moved by a type of depth of feeling, attention to melodic detail, and socially constructed meanings that speak of community rather than of isolation and detachment from society generally. Yet, practice and growth in music do take a high level of isolated dedication and focus.
Sharing, however, is the true calling for musicians with a social consciousness. Many factors come to prevent this openness from becoming something widespread and less abstract. This isolation and detachment – an attitude characteristic of the contemporary jazz realm – I also find attractive. The differences between sharing and isolation are often left unexplored. There is only so much time, after all, to engage with music.
After moving slowly through a phase valuing virtuosity and what I called 'complexity', I have now settled on a path that concentrates on melodies and harmonic possibilities. HABiTUS, in my personal trajectory, stands in an intersection and represents a point of departure. It stands on the intersection between the two musical styles that have captured the core of my heart and imagination – classical jazz and Brazilian music. I recognize that the term "Brazilian music" is incredibly broad, but this very broadness represents the point of departure I am talking about. After I crossed the Brazilian music threshold, a new horizon opened up and it was not possible to walk backwards anymore. This is a very personal matter.
This album gives us some hope and satisfaction even with its isolation and virtual anonymity. We know it is still possible to complete projects without commercial interest and to leave some sort of mark that shines with joy for the blessing we know and follow as 'music', flavoring life with deliciousness in a world ridden with bitterness and conflict. Are we realists, are we idealists, both, or something else? Questions of identification, of pinpointing where we are supposed to belong or who we are supposed to 'be' are irrelevant once your spirit journeys through the multilayered experience we call music.
I hope that craftiness and care for beauty, rhythm, melody, feeling and expression in music composition and production is something valued beyond getting paid, selling, or becoming popular – that people can bring more careful and sensitive ears and minds out, and into themselves through music. When we listen, play, sing, dance and breathe music we feel like children again.
LISTENING TO HABiTUS:
Now I will try to relay what I feel about this music while trying to detach myself from it. According to my own theoretical approach, this would be impossible. Somehow I am behind these words, and liner notes are often used to make the work more appealing. This album strikes me as unconventional at least in a few ways. The music focuses on improvisation from a rhythmic perspective that is decidedly "Brazilian" – influenced by samba, choro, and baião. Compared to much contemporary jazz I have been exposed to, this music values melodic sense more than mathematical arrangements. Yet, this music resorts to a sort of raw nakedness. The improvisations themselves and the compositions have managed to escape the tendency to be part of a well defined tradition, and bring up a blend that borders on a type of melodic storytelling simplicity and thickness.
1. Modéstia à Parte ("Modesty Off") is one of two songs from Hermeto Pascoal's book – Calendário do Som (2000) – that we felt like recording this time. I like the cyclical progression, taking you into a stroll around the harmonic spectrum seamlessly. Daniel D'Alcântara's flugel storytelling is a compelling exploration of the theme and Pepe Cisnero's piano is effortless and sweet. The rhythm session supports, flowing through the lyricism of the shifting cyclical harmonies.
2. Enrolando as Regras ("Scrambling the Rules") is a tune dedicated to Erroll Garner, written over a harmonic structure from one of his tunes. The head is lazy and laid back. The bass claimed the backbone while the percussion details the landscape through which we set out to travel together. Sandro Haick kicks it off with an acoustic guitar solo characteristic of his personal style, percussive, syncopated. Pepe's piano playing is just as percussive, deeply grounded on the Cuban tradition. By the end, we vamp away in a citation of Coltrane's A Love Supreme bass line, and we have a chance to hear Vinicius Dorin on flute for the first time.
3. Renascimento ("Rebirth") is a composition we pulled off from Sandro Haick's personal collection. He composed it while convalescing in the hospital after a back surgery. It was his way to look into the future. Initially, this song strikes the unaware as commonplace, perhaps because of the lyricism of the bandolim-flute combination we used for the melody. Renascimento is played in a Baião rhythm, and its soft and hopeful melody is weaved carefully into a complicated harmonic structure reminiscent of my favorite Brazilian styles. I appreciate the dedication that went into putting this one together. The acoustic guitar, percussion, and drums played by Sandro are perfect for the tune and his ability to speak in groove this baião makes me deeply satisfied – the dynamics are impeccable. Pepe's piano solo is told like a story, finding melodies around the rhythm and taking time for bringing up the rhythmic dynamics. Sandro's bandolim solo is a lesson of rhythmic intuition and sentiment, played with gusto written large. Vinicius Dorin's flute work is featured again, but not in the front stage yet. This changes as we move to the next song.
4. Xaropérlex ao Samba ("Wacked Out") is a song I wrote to blend the short cycle of bop and blues with an upbeat and intense samba approach. The first one to rip off through the changes after the short head is Vinicius Dorin, this time on tenor. He knows how to speak softly and to rip virtuosity over this intense samba groove. Sandro's knowledge of samba language on a regular drum set is spectacularly detailed here. Sandro breathes the tune effortlessly and Daniel D'Alcântara's trumpet is relentless and driving. Pepe communicates with the rhythm session in a very involved and close conversation. His piano solo builds up intensity and culminates transitioning into a bass solo meant to twist the tune into its theme – "Xaropérlex" – which should essentially mean a mix of "madness" with "craziness" in a positive, wacky sense. Sandro's drum solo brings it home and we close off letting it all out at the end.
5. Sempre Querida ("Always Loved") is the second composition arranged from Hermeto Pascoal's Calendário do Som (2000). As the notes written at the time of composition clarify, Hermeto wrote this song after he heard about his mother's passing away, in homage to her spirit. I would call this a 'modern' choro tune – it avoids melodic repetitions, and the harmonic progression is almost as think and intense as the melody. It starts with a piano introduction that refers to the melody, and jumps into the head – played twice – doubled by the bandolim and flute. Sandro Haick takes the first solo on bandolim, followed by Vinicius Dorin on flute over this complex harmonic progression. Sandro's approach follows his usual blend of rhythmic syncopation and intuitional melodiousness. I find Vinicius Dorin's solo on flute here phenomenal, stretching the tune and bringing out the rhythm session into a build up towards the piano solo. Pepe Cisnero's playing in this tune is complex and intense, and it always puts me on the edge of my seat. The way the piano and rhythm session communicate seems impossible. What happens in this tune is something that computers will never be able to do, no matter how popular and massive computer programmed music has become.
6. KYLIX is another tune I wrote for this record back in 2005. It is a type of Latin-influenced 3/4 Waltz with an odd number of measures and a shifting harmony. At the time I wrote this tune, I was interested in how melodies could connect chords that seemed initially unrelated. The head melody is not usual, nor is it based in anything in particular but an exploration of harmonic and melodic weaving patterns. The bass has to stay out of the way for the soloists to push into the directions they discover in the process of improvisation. Daniel D'Alcântara approached this tune lyrically, letting the chords flow, weaving melodic connections, and building up intensity. Vinicius Dorin's soprano solo is a virtuosic exploration, stretching the tune into unforeseeable directions. The unusual nature of the chord progression stands out in Pepe's piano solo, followed by a bass solo that seeks to give the tune a moment of breathing and rest before the final build up.
7. Lábios Larápios ("Sketchy Lips") is a tune I wrote sometime in 2005. I composed the melody avoiding melodic repetitions and emphasizing recurring rhythmic patterns within a shifting melody and harmonic progression. Vinicius Dorin leads the melody and takes the first solo. This soprano solo stretches the imagination. Vinicius and the soprano seem connected in a symbiotic relationship – the player had become the instrument and the instrument the player, hybridized into each other like the main characters of Bergman's Persona (1963) – or something like that. Perhaps more like a vine wrapped into a tree over many years. Pepe's solo drives the Latin rhythms into a deep sense syncopated communication and coordination. The tune drops to a slow percussive groove to give the bass a chance to explore the progressive background the tune is set over, emphasizing melody, rhythm, and communication rather than acrobatic showmanship. This is the longest tune in HABiTUS.
8. Partida Nua ("Naked Departure") is another tune written for this record in 2005. It is a slow samba canção. This tune is about the uncertain nature and fragility of intimate personal relationships. It is a type of lament, through a road leading to a deeper transformation – its final harmonic transition – an expression of joy through longing. This one did not sprout from an intense need to express something dazzling. It is like sitting back and lounging into one's own memories to try to find new ways of facing the past and finding a way to inner cleansing and assessment through melodies and harmonies. The listener should be able to dwell in this inner world by singing the improvisations and breathing the melody.
9. Umbrae atque Undae ("Shadows and Waves") is the first tune I decided to give a title in Latin. Following the rules of elision from Latin poetry, one would pronounce "Umbratqundae" as a single word. A word ending in a vowel or diphthong followed by a word that starts with a vowel is absorbed into the next word, forcing the speaker to turn the whole phrase into a single utterance. This is another long 3/4 tune, with the most complicated head melody in this album. The chord progression is quite unusual and complicated to navigate. My interest in such complications led me to explore this type of approach. Sandro's melodic drumming shines through here. Vinicius Dorin takes us through a long walk along these shifting chords, making it all look easy, and driving the rhythm session in unusual directions. Sandro keeps on smashing through, with his ideal blend of melody and virtuosity that comes clearly through in his drum solo.
10. Cupim de Sapê ("Sap Termite") is a tune I wrote to celebrate (again) John Coltrane's influence in my understanding of the connections between music and spirituality. I composed the melody on top of the harmony for Coltrane's Satellite. One main difference between this record and my first is the absence of swing or be-bop rhythms, but with an acknowledgment of the unforgettable influence and inspiration still flowing from that era. After Vinicius' rips his alto through this bewildering harmonic progression, Pepe Cisneros builds up, driving with the rhythmic intensity that characterizes his personal style. This is one of the rawest tunes in this album, keeping everyone in the edge, supported by Sandro's precise and expressive drumming style, speaking through with high speed samba breath.