Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sonny Stitt - In Brasil

You start collecting the albums of an artist, get to fifty or so, and decide, "what the heck, might as well go the whole distance--he can't have made many more." Unfortunately, in Sonny Stitt's case he did. There are times it seems that not a day went by that Sonny didn't agree to cut a record for someone. He was the "Lone Wolf" of jazz as well as the most peripatetic, ubiquitous of all American musicians. Between 1960 and 1980 (and certainly for the 15 years prior to 1960) you could practically take up temporary residence (a couple of months if not less) in any major city, and eventually Sonny would drift into town, two saxophone cases in tow, and maybe a few phone numbers to help him locate the best local musicians available as well as a venue willing to support his major habit--which can be summarized as playing the saxophones--alto and tenor--more "perfectly" than any musician who has lived while simultaneously keeping alive the flame struck by Charlie Parker, in the process demonstrating what "swing" was all about and spreading the gospel of the Great American Songbook (he was practically the instrumental equivalent of a Bing, Ella, or Sinatra). I'd never heard of this record or of the Zimbo Trio, but it doesn't surprise me all that much that during the last 2-3 years of his life he should find his way to Brazil and leave behind a record of the experience. Looking on the internet, I find the Zimbo Trio has impressive credits, at least in Brazil--first recording in 1965 and continuing to represent a standard of excellence in the performance of both Brazilian music and American jazz. Chances are you will learn none of this from the album--all of the liner notes, apparently in the form of testimonials written by the musicians on the date, are in Spanish. But there are some photos of Sonny in the control room--looking in better spirits than I've ever seen him--that may be the best thing about the album. He's having a blast, and the musicians are obviously thrilled and fully aware of the significance of the moment. As for the music, it's not as bad as some Stitt recordings, bootleg and otherwise, that I've quickly had to put out of their misery. But if you've heard a lot of Sonny already, you know pretty much what to expect. Just be assured that he's fully on his game--the intonation, the embouchure, the mind and fingers, the mastery of both horns--it's all working fine, quite worthy of Stitt and his legacy among those privileged to know it. The rest of it isn't quite up to that level, though the quality of the supporting musicians and of the audio reproduction itself is no doubt professional enough to satisfy most listeners. True to so many recordings of the 1970s the bass is over-miked and (ugh) electric (or sounding like it), and the bassist tends to sound like he's running away with his own walking lines rather than locking in "tight and right" with the drummer's high hat. As a result, it's hard for the listener to feel the same groove that the musicians themselves obviously were experiencing during the recording. The pianist has chops and swings, and the drummer sounds like he'd work well with a Sam Jones or Ray Brown (what a difference that would make). Like too many of those CTI-type recording sessions of the '70s, this one is "over-engineered" to the detriment of the sound of Sonny's rich, true, uncluttered tone. He sounds unnecessarily pinched and "distant" on the date, as though he's wearing headphones and has been placed in a separate room from the rhythm section (which may well be the case). But most importantly, the tones of the alto and tenor, while unmistakably Sonny Stitt (he really comes to life on Bird's "Little Suede Shoes"), don't do justice by the way he "really" sounded (I heard him in person at least twenty-five times). The pity's all the more if only because Sonny, and for that matter the musicians on the date, are all playing well. In sum, this one is a keeper, but you'd best EQ it, rolling back on the low frequencies and providing some boost to the mid-frequencies covering Sonny's alto and tenor saxophones. Either that or retitle the date: "Bass in the Foreground." - by Samuel C., Amazon.com

Artist: Sonny Stitt & Zimbo Trio
Album: In Brasil
Year: 1979 (Clam Records)
Label: Fresh Sound Records (1991)
Runtime: 41:03

Tracks:
1.  Hope's Blues (Sonny Stitt) 4:41
2.  Corcovado (Quiet Nights) (Antonio Carlos Jobim) 5:17
3.  There Will Never Be Another You (Mack Gordon / Harry Warren) 5:10
4.  Little Suede Shoes (Charlie Parker) 5:25
5.  Autumn Leaves (Joseph Kosma / Johnny Mercer / Jacques Prévert) 6:00
6.  Samba Do Orfeu (Luiz Bonfa / Antonio Maria) 5:20
7.  Blues For Gaby (Sonny Stitt) 6:22
8.  Assim Está Certo (Amilton Godoy) 2:48

Personnel:
Sonny Stitt (Alto Saxophone)
Amilton Godoy (Piano)
Luiz Chaves (Bass)
Rubens Barsotti (Drums)

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