Arts & Entertainment

Jazz Forum’s Morganelli Celebrates Brazilian Music on Enchanting New Double-CD

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by Thomas Staudter – 

Since opening the popular Jazz Forum music venue in Tarrytown with his wife and business partner Ellen Prior nearly three years ago, Mark Morganelli has reserved the Sunday afternoon and evening bookings mostly for musical artists and acts presenting bossa nova and Brazilian jazz—a reflection of his deep affection, shared with Prior, for the winning melodies and irresistible rhythms that abound in these genres.

Last month, though, it was Morganelli’s turn to guide the grooves at the jazz club’s regularly scheduled Brazilian music party.

Never having given up his four decade-long “day job” as a trumpet and flugelhorn player in the jazz realm, Morganelli recorded a double CD entitled Brasil! last summer, and to celebrate its release he performed a number of the tracks from the recording at—where else?—Jazz Forum during two sold out shows.

Joining the charismatic horn player on the bandstand at the club was yet another talented edition of his Jazz Forum All-Stars, which included keyboardist Abelita Mateus and accordionist Eddie Monteiro from the recording (both added vocals), veteran guitarist Vic Juris and drummer Graciliano Zambonin.

“It had been 15 years since I last made a CD, and I thought, while still feasible, it would be great to complete another,” said Morganelli before the shows, “and this time around I decided to express my love for Brazilian music and culture.”

Like many ardent music fans of a certain age, Morganelli, now 64, became hipped to Brazilian jazz in  his youth through the album Getz/Gilberto—a momentous crossover collaboration between tenor sax titan Stan Getz and suave Brazilian guitarist-singer João Gilberto. The record also featured renowned composer-pianist Antônio Carlos Jobim and on two indelible songs—“The Girl from Ipanema” and “Corcovado (Quiet Night of Quiet Stars)”—entrancing vocals by Astrud Gilberto. Attracted to both the saxophonist’s renowned “hot and cool” tone and the exotic rhythms the music floated over, Morganelli began to dig into Getz’s other Brazilian-centered albums, like Jazz Samba, a collaboration with guitarist Charlie Byrd, and Big Band Bossa Nova.

Years later, in 1979, when Morganelli opened his first Jazz Forum in Manhattan, a Brazilian big band rented the space for rehearsal, and before long the music captivated him to the extent that he started working a few Brazilian jazz numbers into his own repertoire. He even traveled to Brazil twice for extended stays and to enjoy the music first-hand, he said.

As the Long Island native delved more and more into Brazilian music, he eventually learned to play about 60 different songs associated with the genre. Some of his original compositions, like “Silver Quarter,” he remarked, were influenced also by samba and bossa nova rhythms; different songs by Jobim and other notable Brazilian and Brazilian-influenced songsmiths began to pop up on his recordings. He also started to work with Brazilian musicians like the late percussionist Guilherme Franco, founder of the power samba band Pe De Boi, plus bassist Nilson Matta and drummer Duduka da Fonseca from the group Trio da Paz.

When it came time to record Brasil! Morganelli faced a conundrum: how to pare down the list of all of the Brazilian songs he wanted to include on his CD. A rehearsal and two days of recording took place at Jazz Forum in June. Assisted by recording engineer Malcolm Addey, whom Morganelli had worked with while producing over 40 albums for Candid Records between 1989 and 1994 (“He talked me into it—I was semi-retired,” said Addey), and with the enlisted support of an A-list of Brazilian recruits beside Mateus, Monteiro and Matta—namely, guitarist Carlos Barbosa-Lima, drummer Adriano Santos, and percussionist-guitarist-vocalist Nanny Assis, plus vocalist Monika Oliveira, a frequent performer at Jazz Forum’s Brazilian soirées—he got to work.

In the end, Morganelli included 27 tracks on Brasil! featuring 28 different songs (one cut is a medley of Luis Bonfa’s two great compositions, “Mahne da Carnaval” and “Samba de Orfeu” from the hit film Black Orpheus) for the simple reason that he did not want to release the music in two parts—a Volume 1 and Volume 2. The result is a veritable primer of Brazilian music. The double-CD includes a wealth of Jobim’s best known songs, plus familiar selections like “Samba de Verao (Summer Samba)” and “Deixa” (made popular by Sergio Mendes & Brazil 66), along with a number of vocal numbers, like João Donato’s “A Rã” and Ivan Lins’s “Velas Icadas.”

A lively and accomplished horn player steeped in post-bop and soul jazz, Morganelli guides most of the melodies on Brasil!, which he purposely arranged to be in the album’s foreground, an acknowledgement, he said, of Getz’s influence on his playing in terms of singing through his instrument. Each disc runs about 50 minutes and the delights are abundant.

At Jazz Forum, while playing the songs from Brasil!, Morganelli graciously let the band stretch out, and he took a number of feisty solos, too, lifting his flugelhorn high on “A Rã,” the first set’s encore—a triumphant and satisfied gesture of artistic merit.

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