Opus Samba
Fabio Fonseca Trio

If the Hammond organ tends to get the wind knocked out of it by American and European players, there is something about Brazil’s practitioners that emit the warm breeze of the Brazilian beaches and the batucada celebration of its people.

Any doubt is instantly allayed with one listen to such legends as Walter Wanderley, Ed Lincoln, Djalma Ferreira or any number of Brazil’s many Hammond journeymen. While the underrated Ely Arcoverde, Celso Murilo, Andre Penazza, Aresky Aratto and Ze Maria all come to mind, even part timers like Eumir Deodato, Primo Jr. and João Donato (most notably on Cal Tjader's soulful albums "The Prophet" and "Solar Heat") breathe a welcome breath of Brazil into their occasional forays on the Hammond.

Add to this pantheon the remarkable Fabio Fonseca. While Mr. Fonseca is probably just a part-time organ grinder, it’s not for lack of anything else to do. Fabio Fonseca is one of Brazil’s busiest and most highly regarded producers and session men.

Occasionally he finds the time to gather his trio together and record under his own name. On this occasion, he’s focusing his highly individual touch on the Hammond organ, which, incidentally, was acquired years ago from Fonseca’s friend and mentor, Ed Lincoln.

Like many contemporary jazz organists – most prominently, John Medeski – Fonseca articulates his Hammond lines with (mostly electric) keyboard counterpoints, which, naturally, personalizes the wonderful whole that is Opus Samba, his debut album for producer Arnaldo DeSouteiro's progressive JSR (Jazz Station Records) label.

Fabio Fonseca was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1961. He began playing piano at eight and while in his teens he balanced studies of classical music with electric experiments on the Wurlitzer, Fender Rhodes, Mini-Moog and Yamaha organ in the company of other young, local musicians.

In 1981, Fonseca was invited by drummer Sergio Naidin to join Nota Vermelha, a band of young locals including future Brazilian pop stars Fernanda Abreau and Leo Jaime. A year later, at the age of 22, Fonseca was invited to play with the funk band, Brylho, whose singer and guitarist, Claudio Zoli, later went on to solo success, with three albums produced by former bandmate Fonseca.

Fonseca made his debut as a recording artist in 1985 with his band, Cinema-a-Dois, on the national hit “Não Me Iluda” (RCA). His eponymous solo debut was issued by WEA in 1988, right before he joined Ed Motta’s band, where he wrote what became Motta’s signature hit, the funked-out dance floor classic, “Manuel”.

The 1992 album, Tradução Simultâ (Philips), featured much of Fonseca’s best work of the time and was notable for the beautiful “A Mulher de 15 Metros”, with Luiz Melodia sharing vocal duties and the legendary João Donato providing a sumptuous orchestral arrangement and lyrical piano accompaniment.

To witness these early triumphs, listeners can sample both “Manuel” and the otherwise unavailable Donato arrangement of “A Mulher de 15 Metros” on the fourth volume of producer Arnaldo DeSouteiro’s spectacular A Trip To Brazil (Universal) series.

The gregarious Fabio Fonseca spent the rest of the twentieth century’s last decade establishing his credentials as an influential producer for former bandmate Fernanda Abreau and many others including Marina Lima, Luiz Melodia, Edson Cordeiro, and rapper Gabriel o Pensador. His musical work over the last fifteen years also includes many arrangements and dates on a variety of keyboards for such artists as Lulu Santos, Dom Um Romão, João Donato, Ithamara Koorax, Ed Motta, Seu Jorge and the rock band Paralamas.

Mr. Fonseca has also worked with producer Arnaldo DeSouteiro on many live projects including Dom Um Romão and Ithamara Koorax’s successful 1998 European tour and the sold-out gigs the Fabio Fonseca Trio performed during the JSR Festival at the Sofitel Jazz Bar in May 2006.

Here, the Fabio Fonseca Trio follows up its acclaimed 2002 release, Tudo (Jardim Magnetetico) with Opus Samba (JSR), a brilliant and beautiful tribute to much that came before it in the Brazilian Hammond tradition and a signpost for the way forward.

“All tracks were recorded ‘live’ in the studio,” enthuses the producer, “in only three days, plus a fourth day for some overdubs. Plus, most of the songs were first takes.

“Even though Fabio already had an excellent studio (Magentic Garden Studios), where we’d recorded together before, we felt that we needed a bigger place to give the musicians a chance to interact with other as if performing live.”

That prompted Fonseca to build a new studio in Petropolis, where he and DeSouteiro are neighbors, that provided the opportunity to create a larger-than-life sound which is the hallmark of legendary engineer (and CTI sound man) Rudy Van Gelder.

“Fonseca explained to a Swiss architect what we wanted,” the producer continues. “And the studio was built in eight months, with a high ceiling and a polycentric arch that proved perfect for the ‘hot and fat’ drum sound a la Bernard Purdie that we considered essential to the album’s atmosphere.”

The footprints of many of Fonseca’s Hammond heroes can be heard tapping – or pumping pedals – here, from Walter Wanderley, Charles Earland, the CTI/Kudu albums of Johnny Hammond and more recently, Joey DeFrancesco. But one listen reveals that Fabio Fonseca walks in no one’s shoes.

The set’s first song is “Samba de Nânh 2,” a sequel to Fonseca’s captivating multi-dimensional original that appeared on Dom Um Romão’s 1998 acclaimed Rhythm Traveller (JSR). “It's the fastest track on the album and it seems to have followed well on the original we made with Dom Um,” says Fonseca. Indeed, this samba is taken at a much brisker pace than the original but, like number 1, number 2 adds a tasty dash of percussion, Clavinet and synthesizer effects to spice up the dish.

Stevie Wonder’s "Too High" from the seminal 1973 Innervisions (Motown), was suggested by producer Arnaldo DeSouteiro as a tribute to the original masterpiece. “I’ve always loved Stevie's original recording of this,” says Fonseca. “It goes without saying the amount of influence Stevie Wonder has provided for me. His music is always invested with great melody, harmony and an incredible mastery of the groove.” It was the producer’s suggestion for Fonseca to take the solo section on Fender Rhodes, in tribute to Herbie Hancock’s electrifying solo on Joe Farrell’s version for CTI.

Fabio Fonseca’s invigorating original, “Vida Vira Vida” – translated as “Life Is Life” – is the first of three revivals heard here from the 1992 Tradução Simultãnea album. While seemingly entrenched in the Brazilian Hammond tradition, there is something here that transcends its origins and begs for consideration in straight jazz terms. Fonseca says “this new ‘incarnation’ has more of a samba flavor, which gives the song a whole new life. Although it was recorded at a quite faster tempo than I originally expected, it was one of the easiest tracks to record.”

Fonseca’s deeply hued talent for crafting timeless melodies comes across most especially on his own “Dormideira”. “This is another one written in the late nineties,” he says. “It's a sweet song which I wrote with my Wurlitzer, which, by the way, is used to double the melody on the Hammond.” Producer Arnaldo DeSouteiro and singer Ithamara Koorax can be heard on percussion here. “When the trio was rehearsing this song,” says DeSouteiro, “I thought it would be fun to experiment with some bells and other percussive stuff. Since I wanted as few overdubs as possible, I called Ithamara to join me since I couldn’t do all the instruments myself.”

“Cochise” is Ed Lincoln’s biggest hit. It’s featured on one of the organist’s many eponymous albums, issued in 1966 by the Musidisc label. and, It became a huge dance floor hit in Europe during the acid-jazz 90s. Fonseca says, “I knew ‘Cochise’ from Ed Lincoln's album. My Hammond B-3 used to belong to Ed. It was his main organ for several years. I bought it in 1994. Ed has a style all his own; much different from Americans like Jimmy Smith or Jack McDuff.”

Lincoln recounted to Fabio that he had decided to record "Cochise" after hearing the original version recorded by Tito Puente, in 1963, on the album Exitantes Ritmo de Tito Puente (Tico). The song’s composer, Ray Santos, was a member of Tito's band at the time and his most frequent arranger. “I decided to ‘disrespect’ the original a little and go for freer and crazier solos to bring it to life for a new generation,” explains Fonseca. That free and crazy sensibility is probably the direct result of Luiz Eça’s commanding influence over the more pianistic qualities Fonseca brings to this particular gem.

“Tradução Simultânea” is a return to the song which gave Fonseca’s 1992 album its name. “I love to play this song in a baião/samba groove using a Tom Jobim-type Rhodes.” Indeed there is much here that recalls Antonio Carlos Jobim. Fonseca’s ARP Omni II strings lend a special touch that would no doubt make Jobim arranger Claus Ogerman particularly proud and Mac William’s brushwork unquestionably recalls João Palma’s percussive additions to Jobim’s CTI album Stone Flower.

The spirited “Samba da Copa” was the first song to be recorded for the album, in April 2006, appearing in the compilation A Trip To Brazil Vol. 5: Copa do Mundo 2006 (Verve). It most clearly suggests the influence of Walter Wanderley and the magical marriage his music made between scintillating samba and breezy pop. "It starts with a pop flavor and moves, in the second part, to a more jazzy harmony. It's an intentional contrast. When Arnaldo came up with the minimalist lyrics," enthuses Fonseca, "it opened the song's horizons even more and made it all sound just right.”

One of the album’s highlights – and the keyboardist’s personal favorite here – is “Cantagalo,” named for the street where he lives. Here, Fonseca structures a sort of ‘European samba’ that will remind some of the classy bossa novas heard in many of Ennio Morricone's Italian film scores. Listen to how Fonseca roughs up the groove a few notches by doubling his Hammond lines with the Pro-One synthesizer.

Fabio Fonseca revisits “A Mulher de 15 Metros” here with his organ trio, which instantly requires a refined reconsideration, especially given the original. This version is uplifted substantially by the vocal contributions of the enchanted and enchanting Ithamara Koorax, in her first performance with Fonseca since the pair’s collaboration on “Un Homme et Une Femme,” from the singer’s 1999 album Serenade In Blue (Milestone), where the gifted Koorax sang in French and the multi-talented Fonseca manned all the instruments and the surprisingly funky arrangement too.

“When Arnaldo invited me to record with Dom Um Romão,” Fonseca says of the legendary percussionist’s Rhythm Traveller album, “a new musical era began for me. He helped me rescue my 70s musical roots, from a time when my trio improvisations were influenced by such artists as Hermeto Pascoal, Egberto Gismonti, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett.

"Dom Um, besides helping me rescue this freedom of playing, opened a new percussive horizon, until then unexplored by me. When we toured London together, it was great. Live, he was simply amazing; a 'percussion God.' 'Missing Dom Um' is my tribute. Working with him was nother landmark in my career."

“Mr. Bertrami” is another of Fabio Fonseca’s impassioned tributes, this time dedicated to the incredible José Roberto Bertrami, a similarly gifted multi-keyboard/magician who helmed the internationally renowned Brazilian fusion jazz group Azymuth. “This one is called ‘Mr. Bertrami” because it's dedicated to that genius who was one of my first and strongest influences. I had the opportunity to attend many of Azymuth's live performances in the mid-70s. There was the great Mr. Bertrami with his toys – a Rhodes, Hammond, Clavinet, Mini-Moog and ARP Strings – a  ‘Sonic Disneyland’! I was fascinated.

“It’s hard to believe that Azymuth’s 1998 Woodland Warrior (Far Out) album was recorded in my own studio and that, soon thereafter, I would be sharing keyboard duties with one of my all-time idols.” Like Azymuth, Fonseca also found more global recognition through London’s Far Out label, recording acid jazz projects with Grupo Batque (Africa Brazil), Aricia Mess, Roc Hunter and in the all-star session Friends from Rio Vol. 2.

We conclude our opus samba with another tribute, “Pro Renê,” dedicated to Fabio’s friend, Renê Terra. “It’s hard to underestimate the value Renê Terra had on my musical evolution,” says Fonseca. “In the 90s Renê gave me some organ lessons and he always made sure I knew about any good keyboard instrument that was available. That's how I got the B-3 that belonged to Ed Lincoln." This gently swaying piece evidences much love and the melodic emotion that Fabio Fonseca brings to all the work he does.

It would be especially remiss to avoid comment on the other members of the trio, who provide such marvelous contributions here. Fabio Fonseca is particularly proud of his stable mates – and the evidence heard here proves out his pride.

“I've known bassist Pedro Leão since the 80s,” says Fonseca. “It's been 20 years now. His bass playing is rock solid. He gave me and Mac the security to improvise and experiment without ever losing the time.”

Fonseca met drummer Mac “Allien” William in the early 90s, when Fonseca was doing auditions for a band to tour in support of the Tradução album. “We went some years without seeing each other,” says Fonseca. “But now he is back, better than ever. Mac is one of the strongest samba drummers of his generation – another guy I know I can always count on.”

Producer Arnaldo DeSouteiro adds, “It’s really impressive how much Mac was able to study the style of Dom Um Romão and João Palma, updating them throughout the album."

So now take a journey through Brazil’s rich Hammond organ tradition with the Fabio Fonseca Trio and discover the exciting places it’s headed with Opus Samba and, most of all, enjoy…

Douglas Payne
January 17, 2007