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Album Review

Fourteen years is a long time to spend with one label, especially for jazz and fusion groups. Azymuth celebrated 14 years with the United Kingdom's Far Out label in 2008. Butterfly is their eight record for the imprint and their first new studio album in four years. The original trio — Jose Roberto Bertami (keyboards/vocals), Alex Malheiros (bass/guitars/vocals), and Ivan Conti (drums/percussion/vocals) — is still together after 35 years. Here jazz, funk, fusion, and elegant samba are woven together seamlessly. The disc was produced by the trio with David Brinkworth (Harmonic 33). "Butterfly," the album opener, is a sultry, breezy cover of the classic Herbie Hancock track, originally on 1974's Thrust. The elegant sound of gorgeously arranged strings (by Arthur Verocai no less), warm rolling Rhodes piano, Conti's breaking drums that walk the line between lithe funk and samba, and a pronounced but languid bassline gradually and deliberately build the space, stopping at interludes to reinsert the sensuous mood in the melodic line. Certainly it's an auspicious way to begin, but it's only one of the many highlights on this set. Another follows immediately with the slippery "Os Cara La," a slamming jazz-funk groove tune; Malheiros' bassline is pure snap and pop, while Conti moves in counterpoint to his rhythmic statement, and Bertami's layers of keyboards weave an alluring kaleidoscope of their own. "Meu Doce Amigo," written by Malheiros, is an elegiac samba dedicated to his late son who passed in 2003. Ze Carlos guests on flute and entwines with the wordless vocals and the weave of acoustic guitars and hand and brushed drums. "Avioenda Rio Branco," with its meld of Rhodes and B-3 atop the popping breaks by Conti also contains some tenor blowing by Carlos, all propelled by the trance-like dancefloor funk bass of Malheiros and topped off with a killer solo on the cuica and hand percussion. "New Dawn" is nearly a samba but it stays on this side of jazz with beautiful string work again arranged by Verocai — who also plays electric guitar on the cut — and recalls very early Bill Connors-era Return to Forever. The slamming Brazilian groove returns in "Triagem," which is pure Azymuth fusion. The knotty, layered Rhodes, slamming breaks, and counterpoint basslines all punch up what would otherwise be a nice samba-flavored jazz tune, long a trademark of their compositions and sound. For those longing for the disco-oriented funk that put Azymuth over the top in the '70s, look only to "Hole in One," with its killer synth lines that are grimy, dirty, and slightly crazy, and its trance-like, fingerpopping basslines, drums scatting and cutting across three different time signatures, and an organ woven through vocoder vocals. You could put this one on a continuous loop and dance all night. In sum, Butterfly is a very strong effort that ranks among the finest moments in the group's now storied catalog. Gilles Peterson may have gotten on the title track early, but the rest is where the treasure multiplies; it gets under the skin and into the body. This is seriously top-flight Azymuth.


Formed: 1972 in Brazil

Genre: Brazilian

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Brazilian electrified trio Azymuth called their music samba doido, which means "crazy samba." The actual sounds, though, were not so crazy: the intelligent, high-voltage blend of Brazilian rhythms, jazz, and funk with occasional acoustic episodes gained a sizable following in the 1980s. The members of the group included José Roberto Bertrami (born February 21, 1946, in Tatui; died July 8, 2012, in Rio de Janeiro) on acoustic piano...
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Butterfly, Azymuth
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