Baba de Calango - Grupo Choro Rasgado
by Matt Cibula - 2006

Choro, a jazz form with roots in both European classical music and Afro-Brazilian samba music, originated in Rio de Janeiro in the 1920s as Brazil's first real instrumental music. In Portuguese, “choro” means “to cry,” and some choro musicians really go for the weepy stuff. But this four-piece band from Sao Paulo isn't interested in making anyone cry. For the most part, these songs cook along in a brisk uptempo style, with a light touch and a sense of humor that should take them pretty far in this game.

The two main masterminds of Grupo Choro Rasgado (translated by the band as “Enthusiastic Choro Group”) are its two guitarists. Zé Barbeiro plays the one with seven strings, and Alessandro Penezzi plays the one with six. Both of them are accomplished stylists, and their interplay is stunning; the way they feed off each other's solos on tunes like “Na Segunda Ele Fica Vermelho” is jawdropping. Their compositions are remarkably similar in style; I thought at first that Barbeiro was the more “serious” one and Penezzi the “frivolous” one, but the latter's “Pititi,” a gentle tune for his son, and the former's “Baba de Calango” (”Lizard Drool”), a spirited barnburner, made me rethink that opinion. So I guess it doesn't really matter who writes what when they are so much on the same wavelength.

Although these two are the stars, Rodrigo y Castro's flute work really holds these songs together, especially when he gets to state the melody in pieces like “Choro Vesgo.” The percussion line is held down by Roberta Valente on the tuned tamborine-like pandeiro. She even gets to test her virtuosity on two songs named for her: “Roberta, a Valente” (”Roberta, the Brave”) has rhythmic twists and turns like a Hot Wheels track, and “Roberta, Olha o Breque!” (”Roberta, Watch Out for the Break!”) demands that she be ready to provide funky fills at weird moments. If these tunes are tests, she seems to have passed handily.

I could go on and on about the wonderful guest work by their many friends, including Arismar do Espirito Santo on occasional bass and the two tunes that use string quartets in very different ways, but it's a lot quicker to just say that this is the kind of gutsy, fresh-sounding project that will blow the cobwebs out of any jazz fan's head. High marks for this recording, and for the huge potential of this nimble, adorable group.

Track listing: Baba de Calango; Na Segunda Ele Fica Vermelho; São Braz; Ó Do Borogodó; Carmen; Choro Pra Karina; Pititi; Roberta, a Valente; Lacaniana; Choro Vesgo; Cuspindo Marimbondo; Roberta, Olha o Breque!; Cha de Macaco; Ao Mestre.

Personnel: Roberta Valente: pandeiro; Alessandro Penezzi: six-string guitar; Rodrigo y Castro: flute; Zé Barbeiro: seven-string guitar; Arismar do Espirito Santo: bass; Milton de Mori: mandolin, arrangements; Fabricio Rosil: cavaquinho; Ricardo Valverde: surdo; Alexandre Cunha: violin; Gustavo Cunha: violin; Davi Caverni: viola; Julio Cerezzo: cello; Caito Marcondes: percussion; Toninho Ferragutti: accordion; Laérco de Freitas: piano; Julio César: repique de anel, tamborins; Ildo Silva: cavaquinho.

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