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Beyond Words by Walter Jr. Rodrigues

Originally from Brazil, and already playing guitar at an early age, Walter Rodrigues Jr. was drawn to jazz when he heard a recording by Joe Pass. Eventually, in 1989, he moved to L.A. to work with Ron Eschete, Joe Diorio, Scott Henderson and Peter Sprague at the Guitar Institute of Technology. He did not rush into a recording career, however; this is his first. Allowing himself a decade or more to mature was a wise move and it shows. These are beautifully balanced performances, well conceived and flawlessly executed. And his background is evident; the subtleties of Brazilian music and the Joe Pass school of jazz guitar blend well, and the G.I.T. training emphasizes technical fluency and the tasteful (rather than the head-banging) school of guitar. All of this comes through very clearly in Rodrigues' playing.

The CD proclaims itself to be Brazilian Jazz, and I am placing it in that category, but the Brazilian influence is quite subtle. Rather, we can call this mainstream jazz with Brazilian overtones, particularly strong overtones when the LouvArte Quintet add vocal support for Jonah The Swimmer with its Portuguese Lyrics. Actually, I would have liked to hear more of this group as it adds a unique dimension to the performance. Apart from this, Rodrigues solos fluently and inventively throughout, and the supporting soloists are top quality, especially keyboardist Jim Gasior, with a rewarding cameo appearance from tenor player Gary Cambell. Rodrigues also emerges from this project as a talented composer.

If I had any reservations about this recording when I first played it, it was that it hovers a little close to the Smooth Jazz genre for my taste; I almost disengaged after the first few measures of the opening track. Fortunately I kept listening, because the playing is much stronger than normally found in that genre; the recording just has that certain surface Smooth Jazz sheen , especially on the tracks featuring electric, rather than acoustic, bass. When I had a chance to speak with him I asked him whether he liked the Smooth Jazz format. He told me he prefers to call it Cool Jazz. "Some of it is good, but some of it is too commercial," he agreed.

Peter: "Would you say there is there some of that on this recording?"

Walter: "No, this is my music. Of course, in a different setting, such as a trio, I might be more jazz oriented, but with a full band, with keyboard and horns, I would arrange the songs more toward cool jazz but without losing the essence of the music."

Peter: "Do you do everything in real time?"

Walter: "I may do some guitar overdubs."

Peter: "But you don't lay down any rhythm tracks.

Walter: "No - we do it live!"

I also asked him if he felt comfortable with the Brazilian Jazz category.

Walter: "I wouldn't put it in the straight-ahead category-there is some cool jazz also mixed in, so it's not straight Brazilian, it's a mixture between Brazilian, cool and straight jazz. I would check Brazilian jazz."Yes! Categories are a hassle. The Brazilian grooves on this recording stimulate some fine playing by all concerned, while the Cool Jazz component will help Rodrigues get airplay, and I understand that need, but he has more going on than that. In fact, as his composition itself attests, he could be Muito Mas (Much More).I hope he plays to his strengths in his next recordings.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Walter Jr. Rodrigues
  • CD Title: Beyond Words
  • Genre: Brazilian Jazz / Brazilian Pop Jazz
  • Year Released: 2002
  • Record Label: WR Jazz
  • Tracks: Smile Here She Is, Jonah The Swimmer, Swing Waltz, Muito Mas (Much More), Secret, Psalm 150, Last Minute, Amazing Grace
  • Musicians: Walter Rodrigues Jr. - guitar, Jim Gasior - keyboards, Gutz Kujak - drums, percussion, Gabrial Vivas [1,4 & 7], Jamie Rivera [2] Dan Feifzli [3 & 6] - bass, Jason Carter - trumpet [3], flugelhorn [7], Gary Cambell - tenor saxophone [3], Tom McCormick - flute [4], LouvArte Quintet - vocals [2]
  • Rating: Three Stars
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