South American Way: An Altercat Round-Up (Zéca do Trombone, Naná Vasconcelos with Agustín Pereyra Lucena, Viejas Raíces)

By 14 December, 2021

It’s been aeons since I’ve done one of these retro round-ups, as I call them, but then I’ve only recently become acquainted with Altercat Records from that hippest of hip European cities, Berlin. So I, in my turn, feel it’s my constitutional duty to hip you to them, because they’re coming up with some interesting South American goods. We’ll start with a very recent release…

Zéca do Trombone – Rota-Mar

The man with the trombone, the white suit and the big black bowtie was known to me without my knowing, in a manner of speaking. The title track was among the obscurities compiled by Ed Motta for his Too Slow To Disco Brasil. What’s more, Señor Trombone made a single with perennial favourites Azymuth in 1977, both sides of which are included as bonus tracks with this reissue of an album originally released in 1983. One of the great joys about these obscure re-releases is the information that – sometimes but not always – accompanies them. In this case and in that respect, the Altercat team has done us proud. The booklet is full of wonderful anecdotes about this accidental star. As a teenager, he had to choose between music and football. As a lanky goalkeeper, he was nicknamed the “Pink Panther” and he turned down a couple of offers to play professionally. As a musician, he started off on sousaphone until the evening when his mother had a fit, seeing her son’s cheeks puffed out and fit to burst at a concert. “Do you want to kill my son?” she asked the bandleader in the best tradition of worried mothers. Unwilling to be held responsible, the bandleader persuaded his charge to switch to trombone.

After playing in a local Rio band that called themselves The Jets, Zéca was invited to Mexico to join Sagrada Família, a band that included the likes of Mauricio Maestro, Wilson das Neves, jazz trumpeter Claudio Roditti, Joyce Moreno and room-mate, Naná Vasconcelos. Later, after a troublesome stay with Tim Maia’s band… well, I don’t want to spoil it for you, so you’d better read the rest of his fascinating musical story for yourselves. Suffice to say that he eventually hooked up with producer, José Salema, with whom most of the songs on this album were written. Salema persuaded the trombonist to add vocals to his repertoire (something which Elis Regina had already attempted to do). It’s a warm, gruff voice that enhances the charm of this collection of disco-tinged MPB songs characteristic of its epoch. Still working the scene at 76, Zéca is overjoyed by the re-release of an album that was made “all for love”. “Music is like fuel for life,” he suggests – and so say all of us.

Naná Vasconcelos & Agustín Pereyra Lucena – The Incredible Naná

This one has been out for some time, but it’s worth highlighting as a reminder of two fine musicians, both struck down by lung cancer in recent years. When I was most fortunate to see Naná at the unlikely venue of The Leadmill in Sheffield back in the early ’90s, he had his formidable Bushdancers in tow. This album finds him improvising on hand drums and his beloved berimbau over two long tracks, “Concerto Pra Mãe Bio”, and the aptly if unimaginatively named “Improvisação”. On the latter, he is joined by the Argentinean musician, Agustín Pereyra Lucena on acoustic guitar, while the other two tracks – “Tempo Feliz” and “Conversa do Poeta” – are brief bossa features for this tasteful guitarist, compared by Vinicius de Moraes, no less, to Baden Powell. Of the four numbers, “Improvisação” is unsurprisingly the most satisfying, since it offers the chance to listen to both of them improvising in tandem (at least until the tape ran out!).

To the further consternation of the engineer, the album was played and recorded in darkness at Naná’s request, in keeping with his deep spirituality. It was made during a brief stay in Buenos Aires, where the percussionist was invited for concerts with Gato Barbieri. The great saxophonist took Naná back to the U.S. with him to record Fenix and thence to Europe, for a stay that would culminate in Barbieri’s writing and recording of the soundtrack to Last Tango in Paris. Agustín Pereyra stayed on in Argentina, often accompanying visiting Brazilian artists, until he, too, left for a stay in Europe. The result of this fleeting meeting of two passing musicians was originally released by the Tonodisc label, but only in Argentina. So let us now praise Altercat Records for bringing it to the notice of a wider public.

Viejas Raíces – De Las Colonias Del Río de La Plata

Still in Argentina, here’s an album that was frowned upon by critics and public alike when it was originally released in 1976. With the perspective of history, the music created by a trio led by the trumpeter and distinguished bass player, Jorge López Ruiz, has been better appreciated in more recent times than it was in the wake of the country’s bloody dictatorship. Ruiz played with international stars like Gato Barbieri, again, and Dizzy Gillespie, and his band’s music reflected his desire “to be a composer and an arranger, which is what I like most of all.” During a professional career that lasted 68 years, he composed a number of film scores and there is indeed a certain cinematic quality in these eight tracks that the trio laid down in Buenos Aires’ Phonalex studio with the addition of a local percussion duo and the wordless vocals on three tracks of a young singer, Alejandra Martin: “Balewada”, for example, has a brooding edge redolent of implicit drama. With elements of funk and percussive Afro-Uruguayan candombe, there are inevitable echoes of Azymuth, but without the kind of commercial overtones that might have generated bigger sales at the time. Jazz funkateers with a penchant for the ’70s sounds of, say, Chick Corea, Airto Moreira, Flora Purim and Herbie Hancock will want to check out this re-release and the fascinating booklet that accompanies it.

Head over to Altercat Records to find out more about all of these releases

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