With the recent passing of the legendary Brazilian-born composer Moacir Santos, his last collaboration, Choros & Alegria, takes on even more significance. Although it was released in 2005, it has remained low on the critics' radar screens, yet it is arguably the best jazz/Brazilian jazz record in years. It's only fitting that Choros & Alegria is, in itself, a retrospective of Santos' work. The CD, ably produced by guitarist Mario Adnet and soprano saxophonist Ze Nogueira, covers 15 Santos compositions from 1942-1988. The musical artistry and the arrangements, also handled for the most part by Adnet and Nogueira, are of impeccable quality. But then again, what would one expect from a Santos project?. The composer has a gift for voicing on any kind of arrangement--small groups or larger ensembles--as seen time and time again on this album. In the 1960s, Santos taught several musicians who later went on to have incredible careers of their own, including: Paulo Moura, Oscar Castro-Neves, Baden Powell, Bola Sete, Sergio Mendes, Dori Caymmi, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim. During his illustrious career, he also collaborated with the likes of Henri Mancini and Vinicius de Moraes. Like Duke Ellington, and his unsung collaborator Billy Strayhorn, Santos will indubitably go down in the annals of jazz history as one of its finest composers. However, it might take the rest of the world a few years to rediscover him after combing through his littany of scores.
His penchant for film scoring is chronicled in the weighty waltz, "Pariaso" ("Paradise"). It rivals such dramatic works as the theme from Chinatown. The bittersweet A-section begins with a minor march. The B-section, highlighted by Philip Doyle's french horn, utilizes brilliant harmonic runs and countermelody. What Santos achieves in 4:39 is breathtakingly impressive.
"Vaidoso," the next tune, sets the tone of many of the choros on this CD--very light, but played to perfection. Marcelo Martins' beefy tenor sax is reminiscent of Pixinguinha's playing on his 1940s recordings. The choros on Choros & Alegria are, for the most part, not arrangements for the traditional choro roda, but rather for the jazz combo. If you're looking for a CD with more standard choro instrumentation (6-, 7-string guitar, pandeiro, bandolim, cavaquinho), check out the fine collection, Brazil Cafe, or Paulo Moura & Os Batutas' classic live recording, Pixinguinha. That's to take nothing away from this incredible album, however.
The opening of "Ricaom" shines with Trio Madeira Brasil's Ze Paulo Becker (6-string) and Marcello Goncalves's (7-string) harmonic interplay, and is quickly followed up by the skillful bandolim of Ronaldo do Bandolim, whose runs are flawless. Other highlights on the CD include the rhythmically-catchy "Outra Coisa," the gameshow-esque "Samba Diamante" ("Lovers Samba"), and the jazzy "Rota," which features Wynton Marsalis on trumpet.
From his first CD in 1965, Coisas, to this late offering, Santos has shown incredible craftsmanship. As Duke Ellington's orchestra revealed time and time again, a group can only be as good as the music that it plays. Santos' cannon melds the best of Brazil--its numerous musical styles and elements--with jazz and its sensibilities. Few have or will ever speak both languages so fluently. That's why Santos will live on and why he will not be forgotten.