Marcelo Andrade – African Tree


London-based Brazilian composer and flautist Marcelo Andrade has come up with
an album full of the vibrancy and energy of music inspired by the African
diaspora, as the title of the album suggests. There are some great grooves,
subtle harmonies and expressive singing in this album.

I feel that when someone listens to African Tree, their reaction to the music
will depend on their musical inclination. Those who just listen to beats might
not get the full subtlety of the movements within the songs. Those listening out
mainly for jazz voicings and solos might miss the sensitivity of the vocals and
the shape of the compositions. The album has all the above elements so I recommend taking it as a whole, and listening to it several times for it to sink in!

Track 1 Samburá
The album starts with an energetic flute riff… setting the imagination alight
straight away… then a piano riff comes in with a different rhythm, introducing
evocative chord changes. My musician’s head says these are extensions of the
chords… but whatever it is, sounds good!

Helder Pack’s voice is strong, resonant, emotive. I thought I might
understand a few words of Portuguese because I speak a bit of Spanish, but I’m
struggling so when I look at the text in the album booklet, I wonder if these first words of the song are evoking some of the African roots in Brazilian history… some African words mixed with Portuguese perhaps?

Great piano solo by Ivo Neame. Part way through this solo I’m reminded of
Bheki Mseleku’s Celebration album, because that also has the soft, soothing
sounds of the flute complimenting the piano solo lines, weaving around
thought-provoking, surprising chord changes.

Track 2 Barriga d’água
This track has a subtle reggae style groove… with accordion! The guitar isn’t
in the expected place… it’s played with more of a jazz approach. The bass drives
the reggae feel. This track somehow reminds me of Manu Chao.

Another great vocal delivery, this time by Geraldo Azevedo. He gives off a
relaxed vibe, as if he’s singing about a summer’s day. When I read the lyrics in
the booklet I see it’s about drought and there being no food… I guess the
beauty of music is to bring these contrasts together… a happy voice doesn’t
mean a happy life!

At some point in the chorus, the bass leaves it’s normal place in the chord
sequence, and with the guitar and accordion, heads for some diminished sounding
chords… showing that times of security and stability can lead to insecure,
unsafe times…

Track 3 African Tree
This track starts with a guitar arpeggio… and Adriano Adewale playing a hollow
percussive instrument, the calabash I think. This slow meditative groove is then
counteracted by very quick vocals, by Senegalese musician Kadialy Kouyaté. His
languages are Mandinka and Wolof, I don’t know if he combines them here. Quite a
short song about young people making plans, having a family, and the disruption
of these plans by wars with those who used to be neighbours.

Track 4 Foge Kudu
This is a groovy Latin fusion piece. There’s a flowing, virtuoso bassline by
Matheus Nova. There is real chaos created by trombones blown, made to sound like
elephants. And the quirky Hammond organ with African style drums make me think a
little about Fela Kuti and Afrobeat. A jazzy, bebop-style unison chorus line
with flute and trombones really give this track a unique flavour.

Track 5 Razão de Ser
It’s nice to have a bossanova style track on the album because that’s what I’m
most familiar with as I learnt the guitar to accompany singers over the years,
mainly songs composed by A.C. Jobim. The groove played on Razão de Ser might
have another name though, I’m not a specialist!

Jandira Silva really sings this melody beautifully, and composer Andrade
harmonises with his voice and the guitar. This is a love song, and in the
booklet, love is compared to a tree which grows, matures and lives through
adversity. This track is well placed halfway through the album, a nice balance
to the more intense tracks, which brings me to…

Track 6 Samba das 8
This is the highlight track of the album for me. just a great trombone line to
start! Pretty much a bassline.

Playing the actual bass is Thiago Espírito Santo, a technically gifted player
who has clearly been influenced by the great master Jaco Pastorius. Thiago does
a Jaco-style fretless bass solo in this piece, and then as a middle section
there’s a Brecker Brothers style brass breakdown.

You can hear by listening to this track, that Samba and Jazz really go
together well! And vocalist Filó Machado improvises in the outro with phrases
drawing from those two styles.

Track 7 Bola de Cristal
You’re now taken to a very different place… a cry that sounds like it’s in a
deep cave… lost echoes in a vast space.

As the groove starts, there’s a dreamy quality, perhaps like Flora Purim in
the 1970s. The chord changes take you on a journey here, expect the

Over the chorus there’s an unusual unison riff (violin, viola, cello) that
reminds me of tracks I’ve heard by Jaco and also George Benson, extending that
1970s jazz fusion sound.

Again Espírito Santo demonstrates his great skills and imagination on the bass.

Track 8 Coco-Pera
features London guitar maestro Antonio Forcione… and also a great multitracked
solo by Jaal Leb. This is done in the Flamenco Rumba style, made famous by the
Gipsy Kings. Following the two guitar solos is an atmospheric mandolin solo by
Anselmo Neto. This is a cheerful tune, and appropriately a poetic quote in the
booklet speaks of an old tree still having young leaves… we are never too old to
enjoy ourselves!

Track 9 Vôo Livre
"Fly free"… a 5 beat groove. With my limited knowledge of Brazilian jazz fusion,
I know this music could have some influence of Hermeto Pascoal and Airto Moreira,
but I’m sure there are many other artists Marcelo has as inspiration!

This is the only track on the album with soprano saxophone, and doubling the
sax lines is Marcelo’s own voice. This piece has an experimental quality to it,
especially when it breaks down to a drum solo with strange chords and voices
murmurring, crying in the background…

Track 10 Blackbird
The Beatles cover, interpreted and arranged by Marcelo, preceded by a
traditional Kenyan singing from the Giriama Tribe… a curious marriage of
styles! Danish guitarist Jacob Quistgaard lays down a 12 beat groove accompanied
by the Kenyan drums of Philip Sadhi and the iron sheet(!) of Saidi Nyule.

Blackbird is a popular cover for jazz musicians because of its chords and
melody, but Andrade has put another slant on this.

On the first page of the album booklet he explains how on his travels in East Africa (Uganda and Kenya) he heard sounds and music which seemed so familiar to him, and the rhythms of everyday conversation there sounded like the music he grew up with in Brazil. He then planted 500 trees there, symbolising the growing of cultures, people, friends.

Perhaps Andrade put this final track together as an expression of hope, to show that people can rise from adversity to achieve greater things.

African Tree is available from Marcelo Andrade’s website:

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