Bassist’s Inspired Re-imagining of Classic Brazilian Music Includes Contributions from Leny Andrade, Kenny Barron, Randy Brecker, Anat Cohen and Gretchen Parlato
When Nilson Matta
was a young child in his native Brazil, his father brought home an LP of the music from the play Orfeu da Conceição, by the playwright Vinicius de Moraes, which retells the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice in the then-contemporary setting of Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval. Matta, along with his entire family, were entranced by the soundtrack’s music composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim with lyrics by de Moraes; the burgeoning bassist’s attachment to the music only increased when the film version of the play, titled Black Orpheus, was released in 1959. Black Orpheus went on to win an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the music from the film – which included new songs by Jobim and Luiz Bonfá – introduced the world outside Brazil to bossa nova.
Five decades later, Matta’s long-time love affair with the music of these two seminal pillars of Brazilian musical culture finds consummation in the 2013 release of Nilson Matta’s Black Orpheus, a jazz-flavored reimagining of the music from both Orfeu da Conceição and Black Orpheus. “I had always planned on doing my own version of Black Orpheus,” comments Matta. “I have been working on this project in my head for over two decades. When I teamed up with Motéma, everything began to fall into place, and our views on the project were so in sync that everything worked perfectly. “
As befits a project of such personal import, Matta worked to assemble an all-star cast of players for his Black Orpheus. Even with such artists as Kenny Barron, Randy Brecker, and Gretchen Parlato making contributions to the album, star power was not Matta’s first consideration. “In thinking about recording this music, I had to first consider the Brazilian rhythms that are so important to the movie’s Carnaval setting, “ explains Matta. “The first musicians I brought on board were the percussionists, all of who are from Brazil: Alex Kautz, Fernando Saci, Jorjão Silva, Erivelton Silva, and Reinaldo Silva. I also chose to bring on the Brazilian guitarist Guilherme Monteiro (Kurt Elling, Bebel Gilberto, Jesse Harris.)”
Once Matta had assembled a strong rhythm section, his focus turned to harmony and melody, and he reached out to musicians whom he felt were best suited to his particular vision.
The German-born pianist Klaus Mueller, who was raised in Brazil and Japan, contributes both spirited solos and distinctive arrangements, and also served as Matta’s associate producer. The bassist praises jazz legend Kenny Barron’s “unique touch and expertise” on the tracks “Manhã de Carnaval” and “Frevo.” “Anat Cohen is another genius at the art of playing the clarinet,” enthuses Matta. “She knows about Brazilian music deeply! Gretchen Parlato brought charm, beauty and not only an incredible depth of feeling but also an incredibly unique voice. “
Randy Brecker’s solos delivered the energy of Carnaval imbued with his love of Brazilian jazz – a perfect mix for this music. The ‘Overture’ could not sound better, thanks to Randy and to cellist Laura Metcalf, who played with great intonation and feeling.” Matta is equally effusive about flutist Anne Drummond’s contributions to the CD, both on the “Overture” and on his original composition, “Hugs and Kisses.”
“Anne was able to not only add her own melodic touch to Klaus’ arrangement of the Overture, but to improvise great solos without any need for overdubbing. She is a true virtuoso!”
Speaking about his core rhythm section, Matta says, “Guilherme Monteiro played fantastically, keeping the guitar’s rhythm in perfect time, and bringing equally perfect harmony to every solo performer. Alex Kautz is one of my favorite drummers, and his playing on this album provides just the right rhythmic support. The percussionists Saci, Jorjão and Reinaldo truly bring Brazilian authenticity to the mix.”
In addition to recording in his adopted hometown of New York City, Matta also recorded his Black Orpheus in Rio de Janeiro. “Recording in Rio allowed me the privilege of having the one and the only Leny Andrade sing on two songs.” Matta brought in two other acclaimed Brazilian players for the Rio sessions. Pianist, arranger, and composer Alfredo Cardim “put us in a bossa nova mood with his samba touch and simplicity, and Erivelton Silva is a true master of Brazilian drumming.”
Interspersed among the familiar tracks from the play and film are two original compositions: “Ascend, My Love” and “Hugs and Kisses.” That first original, says Matta, directly relates to the original myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. “There is an important moment in the story when Eurydice dies and Orpheus turns to a spiritual ritual to try to bring her back to life, so I decided to create that ritual atmosphere using bass, percussion and piano.”
Motéma is pleased to add Nilson Matta’s Black Orpheus to its growing series of fine Brazilian-influenced jazz offerings, which includes The Brazilian Trio’s Constelaçao, Matta and Roni Ben Hur’s Mojave, and Ben Hur’s Our Thing (with Santi Debriano and Duduka da Fonseca). Matta will perform the live premiere of these monumental new arrangements of this classic Brazilian music during a one-week residency at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center, from February 13 through 17.
About Nilson Matta
Nilson Matta has long been considered one of the greatest bass players in the world and since his arrival in New York in 1985 he has become the first-call bassist for many renowned US musicians. Born in São Paulo, Matta studied bass at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro with Sandrino Santoro, Brazil’s premier classical bassist. At an incredibly young age, Matta was already recognized as one of Brazil’s most impressive bass players, and while living in Brazil he played with such luminaries as João Gilberto, Hermeto Pascoal, Roberto Carlos, Chico Buarque de Holanda, Nana Caymmi, João Bosco, Johnny Alf, Helio Delmiro, and Luis Bonfá. Since relocating to New York, he has performed and recorded with such renowned artists as Joe Henderson, Paquito D’Rivera, Slide Hampton, Herbie Mann, Mark Murphy, Oscar Castro-Neves, Don Friedman, Paul Winter, Gato Barbieri, and many others.
After moving to New York City, Nilson co-founded the project “The African Brazilian Connection” with legendary pianist Don Pullen. The group released three critically acclaimed albums on Blue Note Records. Matta’s next project, Trio Da Paz, with longtime friends Romero Lubambo and Duduka da Fonseca, quickly earned the trio accolades as one of the foremost Brazilian jazz groups in the world. In fact, Nilson Matta’s Black Orpheus could be said to have had its genesis in Trio Da Paz’s own 1995 Black Orpheus release, a daring and ambitious concept album that explored the themes from the original film soundtrack that set Brazilian music on a new course.
From 1995 through 1998, Matta worked extensively with four-time Grammy® Award winning saxophonist Joe Henderson, playing a vital role in the recording of Joe Henderson Big Band, which took home a Grammy® for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance in 1998. When Yo Yo Ma went looking for band members to fill out his new Brazilian project, Matta was the obvious choice on bass. He recorded Obrigado Brazil and Obrigado Brazil – Live in Concert with Yo Yo Ma, both of which were also Grammy® winners. These albums prompted a worldwide tour that lasted for two years and which touched every corner of the globe. Matta also joined forces with Yo Yo Ma on Songs of Joy & Peace in 2008.
In 2000, Matta recorded Encontros, his first CD as a leader, with harmonica player Hendrik Meurkens, and in 2006, he released a CD for Blue Toucan Music, Nilson Matta and Friends: Walking With My Bass, an autobiographical project with a wide range of guests including João Bosco, Ivan Lins, Kenny Barron, Harry Allen, Rosa Passos, Robertinho Silva, Mauricio Einhorn, Joyce, Helio Alves, Filo Machado, Vic Juris and others. In 2010, Copacabana, his album with Brazilian Voyage – Harry Allen (tenor sax), Anne Drummond (flute), pianist Klaus Mueller, and fellow Brazilians Murico Zottarelli (drums) and percussionist Ze Mauricio – was praised by Allmusic.com as “a memorable date that reveals new facets with each hearing.”
Matta is also continually focused on passing on his talents and experiences to the next generation of young bassists. He is a member of the International Society of Bassists and often appears as a featured guest and performer at their conventions. Matta is also well known for his teaching ability, which has been showcased in different settings around the world. From 1995 to 2002, he presented workshops and Master Classes at Bass Collective in New York City and at Montclair University in New Jersey. Since 2009, he has been teaching at the Litchfield (CT) Jazz Camp, and was recently appointed the Artistic Director of Samba Meets Jazz Workshop.
His first release on Motéma Music was 2011’s Mojave, on which he joined forces with guitarist Roni Ben Hur for an outing that was lauded by Jazz Times for its “smart and sophisticated interplay.” In 2012, he reunited with pianist Helio Alves and drummer Duduka da Fonseca in The Brazilian Trio, for the critically acclaimed Constelaçao, the follow-up to the group’s 2008 Grammy®-nominated CD, Forests. Allmusic.com called the album “A highlight of Brazilian jazz,” and Musica Brasileira raved about its “awe-inspiring arrangements and performances.”
With the release of Nilson Matta’s Black Orpheus, the bassist has once again delivered a musical offering that not only captures his essence as a player of elegance and finesse, but as one of the most enthusiastic and positive artists around. The last track on the album, Matta’s own “Hugs and Kisses,” sums up his personal and stylistic philosophy. “I sequenced ‘Hugs and Kisses’ as the last track on the CD just to emphasize that no matter what happens throughout the course of our lives, there will always be a happy ending, like a sunrise, and that we must focus on the good things.”