Antonio Loureiro is a man with a singular vision for his music. For the Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and singer, the magic exists in the moment, in spontaneity, where barriers between songs and instrumentals don’t exist. And on his second solo album, Só, he shows just how beautiful that music can be.
“I play music that comes from the inside and music that comes from the outside,” he explains. He absorbs music of all kinds, from saxophonist Wayne Shorter to the indie rock of Grizzly Bear. Listening, taking in music of all kinds is in his DNA. “In Belo Horizonte, where I come from, there’s a history of mixing music from all around. In the 1960s Milton Nascimento and Toninho Horta were mixing jazz and popular music. I’m a drummer, I played with these musicians (I played with Toninho Horta for a while and lots of musicians from Belo Horizonte but unfortunately I've never met Milton Nascimento)– I even played in Toninho’s band for a while. So it was natural. Even if I didn’t want it, they influenced me. Jazz, music from Africa, rock, progressive, it all becomes an influence. The popular music from Brazil is probably one of my biggest influences. The music from Northeast and from Minas!”
What emerges on Só is much more than the sum of its parts. Sounds are transformed, ideas transmuted. It’s improvisational, but within a framework, and it all has that ineffably Brazilian lightness of touch.
“There’s a lot of thinking and the concept of an arrangement,” Loureiro says. A master of vibraphone, drums, percussion, piano, bass, guitar and vocals, on many of the tracks he played everything himself. “I’m playing but that’s all part of the composition. Over seventy per cent of the overdubbing is first takes. It’s the closest thing to playing all the instruments at once.”
There are some guests on the album, like saxophonist Thiago França, who contributes a pair of contrasting soloes to “Cabe Na Minha Ciranda,” one mellow, the other pushing at the edges of dissonance, changing the entire fabric of the piece.
“He gives a sound that’s like a texture,” Loureiro observes. “He’s not worried about the notes.”
But that idea feeds into Loureiro’s theories about songs and instrumental music. He puts “both things in the same music as the same thing. It’s one composition – sometimes it has lyrics. I like the liberty of instrumental songwriting. Sometimes it has lyrics, sometimes it’s a song melody. I do both. I love both and the forms are connected. The music doesn’t mind which it is.”
That’s perhaps most apparent on Só’s opening track, “Pelas Águas,” which, Loureiro says, “is forms of the ways water sounds – raindrops, waterfalls, calm rivers, and everything from frozen to boiling. The lyrics talk about that, they’re in Tupi-Guarani, an indigenous language. It's also about the origins of Brazil. It came from Indians and water, the same Indians that in Brazil that are losing more and more of this water and their lives. You can hear and see the water, it’s an impressionist piece. I’ve tried to make a dialogue between the words and the instrumental parts. I would say that I've tried to make words and instrumental parts say the same thing. Both are part of the same text."
It’s music that confounds expectations and demands the attention of the listener. Quite deliberately, the first three tracks on Só are what Loureiro calls “big pieces,” complex tapestries of sound, rhythm and melody. But this was his natural reaction after spending so long in groups with a set repertoire.
On lives dates with his own band, “I haven’t made it very free, say like Keith Jarrett. The music here is open, it has a wide variety of possibilities. But it also has its structure. The musicians who usually play with me listen to the record. I tell them to come with their ideas, let’s play, let’s have fun. But I was raised playing jazz, as well as Maracatu, tambor de crioula, Brazilian music and rocl and roll. This distance between my first record and this one is huge. This is more me.”
With an undergraduate degree in percussion, “the rhythm is the thing,” he says. “I naturally speak that percussive language. I still play drums in a lot of bands. I work as a drummer and I always will.”
Yet the focus these days is very much on his own music. He’s quite happy to admit that when people ask him to describe his music, “I don’t have an answer.” To be resolutely individual in today’s world, to be outside pigeonholes, is a glorious thing. To achieve it so naturally and gracefully is remarkable.
But even more than that, there’s that sense of fun that runs through it all. This is where Loureiro plays.