Saturday, March 12, 2016

Bud Shank & Laurindo Almeida: The Roots of Brazilian Jazz, 1953-59

A young Bud Shank
It's been quite a rainy week in northwest Tennessee, so as we patiently wait for warmer weather, I've been spinning quite a few Brazilian-flavored jazz records. The fusion of jazz and bossa nova is usually credited to Stan Getz and João Gilberto's albums from the early 1960s, which introduced the new, exciting Brazilian rhythms to American audiences. However, in 1953 and 1954, altoist Bud Shank and Brazilian guitarist/composer Laurindo Almeida recorded a series of tracks in a quartet setting, with Harry Babasin on bass and Roy Harte on drums, that foreshadow the innovations that would come in full force some seven years later. Almeida had arrived in Los Angeles from his native Rio de Janeiro in 1947 and had found work almost instantly with the Stan Kenton orchestra before participating in these groundbreaking sessions with Shank. The results of his collaboration with the saxophonist were released by World Pacific on a ten-inch album entitled The Laurindo Almeida Quartet Featuring Bud Shank, now reissued as Brazilliance—and brazilliant it was indeed! The record was a very appealing mixture of Brazilian folk rhythms and jazz improvisation, using mostly original tunes by Almeida and other Brazilian composers as the tentative ground on which to build this new sound. The quartet also attempts a similar approach to Latin American songs ("Acércate Más") and standards such as "Speak Low" and "Stairway to the Stars." Shank himself doesn't consider these recordings strictly as bossa nova, yet what Getz, Gilberto, and others would develop in the '60s is already present here, though still in embryonic form. However, this music isn't important merely for historical reasons, but it's the enjoyable product of a group of musicians seeking an innovative sound by mixing a variety of musical influences. The occasional doubts and insecurities that one can detect here and there only add to the charm of what was captured on tape at these sessions.

Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida
Some years later, in 1958 and 1959, Almeida and Shank got together again to cut a few more tracks, accompanied this time by Gary Peacock on bass and Chuck Flores on percussion. These new recordings were subsequently released by World Pacific as The Laurindo Almeida Quartet Featuring Bud Shank, Vol. 2. The concept behind these sessions wasn't substantially different from the work cut in 1953-54, though the group does concentrate more on Almeida and Shank compositions, and the latter's solos (both on alto and flute) have become longer and jazzier. On the standards "Little Girl Blue" and "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" the quartet treads on familiar ground, but the true gems that came out of these dates are originals such as "Nocturno," "Mood Antigua," and "Lonely." Fortunately, the British label Jasmine Records has reissued both volumes of Brazilliance on a single CD, and even though the sound is excellent, next to no background information is provided, and the booklet only includes a brief adaptation of the original liner notes. The same material is also available on a 2012 single disc from the Poll Winners label, with considerably more attractive packaging. Whatever edition one decides to purchase (I only own the Jasmine release) this is groundbreaking music that remains surprisingly fresh and exciting all these decades later.

More Information about These Sessions

In 2008, Bud Shank spoke to critic Marc Myers about these sessions. Myers published the very interesting three-part interview in his blog, JazzWax. Here are links to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

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