By Bobby Reed | Published February 2021
On June 24, 2017, at the Tri-C JazzFest in Cleveland, this writer had the good fortune of catching a performance by guitarist Diego Figueiredo, who initially played solo before joining bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton for a mesmerizing trio set that merged jazz with bossa nova. From that day forward, I enthusiastically have followed the guitarist’s career.
Unlike Figueiredo’s excellent 2020 album, Compilation (Arbors)—for which he played electric guitar on about half the tracks—his new release is an all-acoustic, all-original affair featuring four solo guitar cuts and eight tunes on which he’s joined by the simpatico Brazilian crew of Alexandre Piu (piano), Eduardo Machado (fretless bass) and Fernando Rast (drums).
A native of Franca, Brazil, Figueiredo has crafted a program with song titles that allude to specific, appealing places—such as “Seville,” “Bryant Park,” “Edgewater Park” and “From Rio To Paris”—but no locale is more distant than the one cited in the title track, “Antarctica.” This suite-like solo guitar piece features intriguing, graceful transitions between the sections, resulting in a work that evokes the awesome majesty of the southernmost continent. Figueiredo composed the song while traveling via cruise ship. As he wrote in an email to DownBeat, “I could explore the sea and land around Antarctica, and it was one of my best experiences of my life. The penguins, the silence, the beautiful sky and the icebergs—it was all a unique and new experience for me.”
In contrast to the title track, the quartet tunes “Samba For Haroldo” and “Caribbean Gonzaga” offer a tropical vibe that conjures images of rolling waves and seaside strolls. Figueiredo composed another one of the album’s quartet tracks, “My Friend Menescal,” as a tribute to the bossa pioneer Roberto Menescal (who composed the standard “O Barquinho” and who wrote the liner notes to last year’s Compilation).
Some of the music here would be an appropriate soundtrack for deep thinking and even meditation, but the melodies are consistently compelling. The program concludes with the uplifting “Alma,” an anthem punctuated with Piu’s buoyant piano lines and the leader’s intricate, cyclical solo. The song conveys a mood of “Seize the day,” prompting this listener to spin it over and over.