Eddie Daniels Explores Music of Gismonti


Eddie Daniels in the studio, working on his album Heart Of Brazil

(Photo: Courtesy Resonance Records)

For years, producer and Resonance Records owner George Klabin nurtured an idea for a tribute album to Egberto Gismonti, the sui generis Brazilian composer. Gismonti’s dense, joyful and haunting music is a far cry from the samba and bossa nova styles that many associate with Brazilian music, as it weaves in strands from regional folk traditions, jazz and classical music.

It was difficult to identify someone willing to take on the task of re-imagining these complex works; Klabin remarked that “it was like trying to repaint a Picasso.” Ultimately, he found the right interpreter in Eddie Daniels, whose reputation as a gravity-defying clarinetist sometimes has overshadowed his masterly tenor saxophone playing. The results can be heard on Heart Of Brazil–A Tribute To Egberto Gismonti, featuring Daniels on both instruments, accompanied by a crack rhythm section of Josh Nelson, piano; Kevin Axt, bass; Brazilian drummer Mauricio Zottarelli; and a string quartet, the Harlem Quartet. The genre-bending arrangements are by Nelson, Ted Nash, Kuno Schmid and Mike Patterson.

Daniels was, in one sense, a logical choice, since he’s spent his long career as a musical chameleon who’s equally adept at playing Charlie Parker or Brahms and worked in the 1970s as a sideman on recordings by pop stars like Billy Joel and Angela Bofill.

“I’ve loved Brazilian music for years,” Daniels said recently by phone from Italy, where he was on tour. “Any album of mine that you pick up, there’s a samba on it. But I didn’t know Egberto’s music. When George sent me some stuff, I said, ‘This is beautiful, sensuous and different.’ Then I thought, ‘God, could I do this?’”

Daniels overcame his initial intimidation by “just surrendering to the music,” he said. “I love clarinet and saxophone and feel I have a voice of my own. But I can also leave that voice and let the music tell me what it wants of me. When the rhythm is so hot and beautiful, and you’re just overwhelmed by the perfume of another culture, I relate to it. It’s the same culture that produced Gilberto Gil, Ivan Lins … music I’ve loved my whole life.”

“Eddie is a wicked saxophonist,” said arranger Nash, multi-reedist and member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. “But because he’s so great on clarinet, we think of him that way.” Nash had idolized Daniels since, as an 18-year-old New York music student, he summoned the nerve to cold-call Daniels, who then invited him to his apartment to jam. The opportunity to arrange for Daniels is, he said, a dream come true.

Axt, Nelson and Zottarelli are “all incredible musicians I hadn’t met before,” Nash said. Nash emphasized the importance of Zottarelli to the project. “You just cannot have an American drummer playing this music—unless they have spent a lot of time playing Brazilian music. … There’s a certain way they phrase things on sambas and choros.

“Eddie also told me I needed to really utilize this great Harlem Quartet and not have them just play ‘footballs’ [i.e., whole notes as pretty backgrounds]. He told me I should really ‘kick their butts.’” As a result, the string section often plays fast, challenging Gismonti melodies or countermelodies, or provides orchestral colors.

The project got the blessing of Gismonti, who is now 70. He is quoted in liner notes as saying, “The album is so well-made in terms of arrangement and performance, while at the same time respecting the details of melody, of harmony, even of certain moments of orchestration in the originals.” DB

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