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The merging of Brazilian music and American jazz changed the trajectory of modern music. The inceptions of bossa nova, samba jazz, and other fusions enable Brazil to make its mark on jazz and beyond, via some incredible musicians and composers, including the legendary Dom Salvador. The remarkable pianist and his classic trios, which blended samba and jazz, made an impression on many during the mid-1960s, including a young Duduka Da Fonseca.
Fonseca’s initial exposure to Salvador’s music came as a teenager in Rio de Janeiro. The budding drummer could hear Salvador’s original trio rehearsing, featuring bassist Sergio Barrozo and drummer Edison Machado, while walking to school. When the group released their seminal recording, Rio 65 Trio, Fonseca was completely spellbound by the music and practiced along to the record religiously, forever engraining Salvador’s music into his psyche.
Though he had met Salvador briefly in Rio, Fonseca didn’t have a chance to play regularly with his idol until 1980. Having been in New York City for five years, Fonseca had played with a who’s who of modern jazz legends, so when Salvador’s drummer wasn’t available, the pianist called Fonseca to fill in. Fonseca surprised Salvador by knowing Salvador’s repertoire backwards and forwards, thus cementing a bond that led to years of playing and touring together.
Salvador and Fonseca played regularly during the 1980s in a quartet that also featured saxophonist Dick Oatts and bassist Dennis Irwin. Their collaborations have continued to this day. In 2015, Fonseca’s relationship with Salvador came full circle when he was asked to play Machado’s parts on the 50th anniversary celebration of the Rio 65 Trio recording at Carnegie Hall.
Duduka Da Fonseca Trio Plays Dom Salvador was born from the leader’s love of Salvador and his music and Fonseca’s effort to make a proper tribute to his friend and mentor. The featured trio was born of a 2000 meeting with pianist David Feldman, who was studying then at the New School in New York, and with whom Fonseca recorded with later in 2009 in Brazil, where he also met the trio’s bassist, Guto Wirtti.
In the efforts to make the best recording and present Salvador’s music in the best light, Fonseca reached out to Salvador for lead sheets for his compositions. Feldman also took time to consult Salvador and learn the repertoire from its source, removing any doubts about structural and interpretive nuances. Many of Salvador’s songs seem simple but have difficult elements, most notably in the rhythmic combinations.
Fonseca traveled to Brazil three times: the first to rehearse the music, the second to record over two days, and the third to mix and master. The trio aimed to make the recording as natural as possible, eventually using many first or second takes.
The recording begins with a tune from that inspiring Rio 65 Trio album, “Farjuto,” a breezy composition whose title comes from dated Rio musician slang. ironically meaning “not so good.” The modal of groove of “Transition” is augmented by a variety of rhythms emanating from the Northeastern provinces of Brazil. The haunting “María” is a minimalistic ballad named for Salvador’s wife of 50 years, which the trio molded in the spirit of Keith Jarrett’s memorable take of “It’s Easy To Remember.” The ensemble performs “Antes Da Chuva” in a looser fashion than the Salvador original, while the straight samba of “Samba Do Malandrinho” is bouncy and smart, apropos to its rascally namesake. The sly “Temátrio” is a grooving composition that emerged from Salvador’s second trio around 1966.
The title of “Gafieira” refers to an old Rio tradition of a ballroom dance incorporating some acrobatic elements, the difficult composition prancing along in a brilliant display of melodic and rhythmic complexity. Salvador’s beautiful ballad “Para Elis” is a dedication to the pianist’s former employer, the iconic singer Elis Regina, and finds the trio augmented by the great cellist Jaques Morelenbaum. Performed and recorded as a samba, “Valsa De Esquina” was originally composed as a Brazilian waltz by Salvador, so the trio transformed it into a Bill Evans-esque jazz waltz. The upbeat “Clauditi” is a tribute to a great friend and collaborator, trumpeter Claudio Roditi, and features rhythmic elements of samba and the pre-samba maxixe. Perhaps Salvador’s most famous composition, “Meu Fraco é Café Forte” (or “My Weakness Is Strong Coffee”) utilizes an intriguing arrangement by Wirtti that introduces the melody in half time before speeding it up.
Duduka Da Fonseca and his wonderful trio of David Feldman and Guto Wirtti pay tribute to Brazilian jazz legend Dom Salvador on the enchanting Duduka Da Fonseca Trio Plays Dom Salvador by highlighting the composer’s brilliant music but also giving it new life with new contemporary arrangements.