17. Essence of Brazil

Cochichando. From Paulo Moura, Pixinguinha, 1996

Sun-drenched days put me in mind of this, which comes with fond memories of a one-and-only trip to South America. An academic visit to Rio in the late ’90s: a few days in, work done, my friend and host announces we’re all going to a music bar, to hear “something you’ll like”.

I recall a large, galleried space, maybe a store of some kind during the day, and musicians in the middle. In the centre of things, Paulo Moura’s clarinet and saxophone. And what a brilliant sound. Moura, famous in Brazil, was in his sixties then, and had been making albums for forty years – one record many know is a bossa nova session with Cannonball Adderley from 1962. I heard that much later, but tracked down this one as soon as I could, possibly at the airport. My CD was pressed in Brazil and has notes in Portuguese, anyhow.

It’s a live recording not unlike what I heard, but more strictly focussed on one style – choro, Brazil’s variant on the hybridization of European dance forms with African rhythms – and in particular the work of its leading composer Pixinguinha, or to give him his full name Alfredo da Rocha Viana Júnior (b. 1897). The ensemble, Os Batutas, take their name from Pixinguinha’s own bands, and like the audience seem to know all the tunes backwards. One of the pleasures of the recording is hearing the listeners responding more and more enthusiastically as the concert in Rio’s Carlos Gomes theatre goes on. I don’t think it made much impression in the UK: we were all too busy listening to the Buena Vista Social Club around then. Pity, as it shares many qualities with that fine release.

It’s gorgeous, rhythmically charged, infectious music, brilliantly performed. The record, all arranged by Moura, won awards in Brazil in 1997, as well as the first Grammy for latin music when it was picked up by an American label a few years later. More on all that here.

This track has all the virtues of the set. I never got round to investigating choro much more, but Moura’s fine set always reminds me I still should. It also reminds me it was a fabulous way to end a day that started with a run along copacabana beach, but not every recording can have associations quite as good as that.

full set

Why the No 17? This is one of a series running (in no particular order) through 2021. I explain a bit what it’s doing here.

There’s a cumulative playlist of all the ones that can be found on Spotify

And I’m going to collect all the posts on this page.

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