Brazil has become the world’s largest corridor for
cocaine. Sixty percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States comes
from the White Triangle, a region encompassing border areas in Brazil,
Colombia and Peru. With all the US effort to combat drug production in
Colombia, Brazil is increasing its role as a producer of the white powder.
Some Brazilian authorities fear that a new Medellín is growing right
now deep in the Brazilian Amazon jungle. For all the tragedies they bring,
drugs on the other hand also guarantee jobs to at least a quarter of a
million Brazilians. They are those working in the marijuana fields in the
Northeast and the dozens of thousands selling drugs in the streets of the
big cities. Crack, New York’s gift to the world, has also born fruit in
Brazil. Started in 1988 in the São Paulo suburbs, the crack habit
has gained status and is used now across the country in bigger and smaller
By Brazzil Magazine
It’s been just over a year now since Brazilian saxophonist Leo Gandelman
left his wonderful home near Jardim Botânico in Rio to embark
on his re-discovery of the new world, via New York city. Gandelman, who
has an impressive history of recording here in the US, made his decision
to concentrate on new aspects of his career with the focus on his international
image. With the mastery of his instrument has come the recognition from
his native country, unusual for an instrumental artist, but substantial
and well deserved and a perfect launching pad for his goals.
With six solo albums to his credit, Leo Gandelman has the ability to
expand the horizons of Brazilian music through the resurgence of contemporary
jazz worldwide. His latest recording, currently available in the US only
as an import is called Pérolas Negras (Black Pearls) and
showcases Leo’s favorite songs written by Afro-Brazilian composers. In
it you’ll find jazzy versions of "Mais Que Nada" by Jorge
Ben, "Nana" written by Moacyr Santos and Mário
Telles with its driving, infectious beat, and Milton Nascimento‘s
"Clube da Esquina No. 2."
One of the album’s favorite tracks is a reworking of Monsueto and
Ayrton Amorim‘s "Me Deixa em Paz" with singer Luís
Melodia. The song carries all of the passion of unrequited love, and
is a wonderful interpretation of a Brazilian classic. And much like other
saxophone players here, Gandelman’s decision to use a singer to anchor
his recording of the song has had the desired effect: it’s a big radio
hit in Rio.
Included are other songs penned by Cartola, Jamil Jones,
Djavan, Gilberto Gil and Pixinguinha. And with a nod
to the northeast, Leo includes a spirited, modern version of Pauliho
da Viola‘s "Choro Negro," and it comes off with a satisfying
sense of respect and the same playfulness that the song has always held.
Stevie Wonder‘s "Overjoyed" is included as "the
exception that proves the rule," as Leo would say. His gratitude and
appreciation of Wonder’s incredible musical skills has always been evident
and the song is presented as a lovely ballad with a Brazilian touch that’s
A true Carioca, Gandelman began to study piano and flute at an
early age, and benefited from a musical family. While his father’s background
was as a conductor, his mother’s talents were more instructional, literally,
as a piano teacher. He studied classical music extensively during these
years and became quite adept at the form, playing with various Baroque
groups and also as a soloist with the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra. This
early direction soon led to the saxophone and Leo left Brazil for Boston
and the Berklee College of Music during the 1970s.
The close of that decade found Gandelman back in Rio, armed with an
advanced talent and the creative skills to support it: arranging, composition
and the ability to perform on all of the saxophones, from soprano to baritone,
as well as his earlier favorites, his keyboards and the flute.
He also had a plan, and began to record with everyone: Simone,
Djavan, Elis Regina, Toninho Horta and Ricardo Silveira.
He also took part in the popular Rock in Rio festivals and the Montreux
Jazz Festival as his name and reputation grew. Sometimes playing two or
three sessions a day, Leo set aside his savings for the project that would
catapult his career to the next level. A solo album.
His self titled album was finally recorded and released in 1987 on CBS
in Brazil, and while it was ahead of its time for the Brazilian music scene,
it was on the cutting edge of contemporary jazz in the US, were word of
his creativity caught the eye of Verve Forecast, a Polygram label in New
York. The label was growing by leaps and bounds, and signing new Brazilian
jazz stars was part of the game plan.
Verve signed Leo to a multi-release agreement, and did likewise with
Ricardo Silveira, Joyce and Toninho Horta. With the strong support and
backing of this music powerhouse behind him, Leo’s recognition grew in
the US and back home in Brazil. He quickly recorded Western World and
Solar for Verve, both of which gained quick, lasting radio play
with smooth jazz stations. When Verve changed directions in the 1980’s
Leo continued on with Polygram Brasil and his success continued as well
with Visions (1991) and Made in Rio (1993). While neither
of these two albums received widespread exposure here in the US, both are
excellent choices for your collection.
What you’ll find with these two CDs are the effects of Leo’s continuing
growth as a jazz master. Visions represents Leo’s first advance
into the international arena, with a well produced collection of tunes
including the flowing lines of "Pirates" and "Point of View"
with a stylish touch of Tower of Power thrown into the mix. João
Bosco appears on "Dance in the Woods" and "Spirits of
the Forest" is restructured and elevated from its beginnings as a
novela (soap opera) theme song. Made in Rio is more
pop flavored, with takes on Paul McCartney’s "Long and Winding Road,"
Nascimento’s "Quay," Ary Barroso’s "Bahia" and Rio’s
unofficial theme song "Cidade Maravilhosa" (Wonderful City).
Today, Leo calls the New York suburbs his home, having made a promise
to build the next stage of his incredible career as a musical giant in
a culture that heavily favors vocal music. His eight years of awards as
Brazil’s top instrumental player pay tribute to his talent and dedication;
holding a glimpse of what the future might bring. Watch for Leo Gandelman’s
upcoming projects, including his work with Oscar Castro-Neves and
the group Globo later this Spring.
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