Moacir Santos


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Though Brazilian composer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist Moacir Santos was born in 1926, he didn't release Coisas, his debut album, until 1965 for Universal Music in his home country. (He is best known -- if at all -- to Americans and Europeans for his three Blue Note recordings from the 1970s.) He led a colorful and -- at the beginning at least -- tragic life. Born in abject poverty and abandoned as a child, his mother died and his father abandoned him. As an orphan he was raised in an atmosphere of physical and psychological abuse. He began to learn music by tapping the various rhythms he heard around him with bare feet in the dirt, and later, as a runaway, from the sounds of ocean tides. The story would make a hell of a film: from learning with his first teacher, Paixão, to this record, all that experience -- and more -- is in these grooves, including his long-held fear of playing any instrument in front of others because he was ashamed he didn't play "right." But there is nothing raw or tragic about Coisas. It melds the various tonalities and flavors of creative jazz to the heart of Brazil's folkloric and emergent musical traditions. Colors, textures, spaces, and luxuriant rhythms and melodies all come to bear gently, strikingly, and subtly on these ten pieces. This was issued on the other side of the bossa nova revolution, when it had already been absorbed by the world. Santos took it a step further, melding it seamlessly into a lush harmonic system. Producer Roberto Quartin was essential to the task, hiring a slew of killer younger and veteran players including Baden Powell, Airto Moreira, Dori Caymmi, João Donato, Carlos Lyra, Roberto Menescal, Wilson DasNeves, Gabriel Bezerra, Geraldo Medeiros, and more, as strings, winds, and other horns are all wound around gorgeous melodies. Nothing is overblown. For Santos, bossa nova and samba had become folk music because of their popularity, expressions of previous history that needed to be transferred outward. But to do this so elegantly on a first recording is not only remarkable, it is profound. Go no further than the first track, "Coisa No. 4," followed by the brilliant and lyrical bossa in "Coisa No. 10." The blues feeling in "Coisa No. 2" is dressed with an Ellingtonian sense of harmony. "Coisa No. 6," with its samba rhythms meeting post-bop jazz, is gorgeous. The choro drama drawn out by the presence of cellos and rounded brass is simply exquisite. Hardcore aficionados of Brazilian music and fans of its lighter side (so prominent in the mid-'60s) as well as fans of sophisticated jazz will all find this gem -- overlooked by most outside of its native country, where it is hailed (rightly) as Santos' masterpiece -- to be completely irresistible.

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