Brazilian jazz doesn't necessarily have to be soft, lyrical, caressing, or gently melodic. The innovative saxophonist Ivo Perelman, for example, has combined Brazilian rhythms with free jazz and has been greatly influenced by Albert Ayler and post-1965 John Coltrane; at times, Perelman can be downright blistering. But in many cases, Brazilian jazz is, in fact, lyrical and gently melodic -- and those words easily describe what Bradley Leighton does on Groove Yard, his first album as a leader. The West Coast flutist doesn't play Brazilian jazz exclusively on this 2003 release; his interpretation of Wes Montgomery's "Road Song," for example, is more Afro-Cuban than Brazilian. But Brazilian songs dominate the 42-minute CD, and they're songs that inspire Leighton to be especially lyrical -- including Ary Barroso's "Bahia," Duduka Da Fonseca's "Doña Maria," and two Antonio Carlos Jobim compositions: "Fotografia" and "Mojave." Leighton, thankfully, isn't one of those jazz musicians who plays warhorses exclusively. When it comes to Brazilian music, some of the lazier jazz artists refuse to do their homework -- they insist on playing nothing but the most beaten-to-death warhorses and are too lazy to unearth the lesser-known gems of prolific composers like Jobim, Ivan Lins, Dori Caymmi, and Milton Nascimento. But Leighton isn't lazy; "Mojave" is one of Jobim's lesser-known songs -- and while "Fotografia" is better known than "Mojave," it hasn't been totally beaten to death the way that "Corcovado," "The Girl from Ipanema," and "One Note Samba" have been beaten to death. As lyrically as Leighton plays on Groove Yard, he still knows how to be funky; soul-jazz is a major inspiration, especially the soul-jazz of Herbie Mann and Hubert Laws (two of his main influences). Leighton isn't a groundbreaking or terribly original player, but he's talented, warm, and expressive -- and those qualities serve him well on this solid, if derivative, outing.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson