By reediting Demos 1973-75 and Águia Não Come Mosca, Far Out Recordings and Mr Bongo celebrates jazz-funk brazilian band Azymuth and the cult status they have achieved.
No band represents Brazilian jazz post bossa nova better than Azymuth. The trio (with occasional augmentations) blazed a bold new trail that stripped the elemental strains of Música Popular Brasileira (MPB) to their core: samba, jazz, and rock.
Surviving the passing of their founding member and keyboard wizard, José Roberto Bertrami, in 2012, Ivan “Mamão” Conti and Alex Malheiros are continuing the trailblazing forty-plus-year tradition of innovative Brazilian jazz funk with their “relatively” younger, new synthesizer samurai: Kiko Continentinho. Their latest album on Far Out Records out of the UK, Fenix, from 2016 is testament to the band’s longevity and relevance, composed of a timeless set of tunes that resonate equally with jazz fusion and funk fans.
With the recent release (also on Far Out) of Azymuth Demos 1973-75, we can observe the influential group in their formative phase, navigating the golden eras. Between 1969 and 1973, for nearly four years, these three young musicians, all born the same year in 1946, started working together sometimes as a duo, sometimes as a trio, sometimes as session players on a larger session. What became apparent was that the sum of their individual parts was inescapable: their ease of interaction, their shared appreciation for the foundations of Brazilian music while setting their sights on musical horizons. After woodshedding at Bertrami’s place, backing up touring musicians and playing countless recording sessions supporting other artists for a few years, the trio began to record on their own under a variety of different names: Apollo IV, Bertrami e Conjunto Azimute, Grupo Seleção, The Hot Stuff Band, and then finally Azimüth (until they were forced to change it because of another band in Europe using the same name).
The 16 tracks on Azymuth Demos 1973-75 find the band coming into their sound, already sounding unique in a very diverse artistic field of early seventies Brazil. Songs like “Castelo” and “Laranjeiras” could easily have landed on their debut album and the alternate versions of “Manha” and “Melô da Cuíca” are enlightening, while the “Equipe ‘68” is totally far out, like their current record label, with Bertrami cranking his keys to 11 in this avant-garde jazz-funk experiment. For fans of Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters, Bob James, and Placebo, these recently unearthed tracks are fantastic, finding this young band on the verge of defining their unique “Samba Doido” (“Crazy Samba”) sound. The whole set sounds more finished than the “demos” title suggests, but it also plays like a collection, lacking the coherence of a proper studio album.
Their debut self-titled album, Azimüth, came out in 1975 followed by Águia Não Come Mosca in 1977 on Atlantic Records, which had only recently opened up shop in Brazil. With former Philips/Polydor chief in command, Andre Midani, the Brazilian branch of the storied R&B, Jazz and Soul record label from New York City made a strong play early for the Black Rio (Brazil’s homegrown funk and soul scene) audience, signing Tim Maia for his hit Disco Club album and Banda Black Rio for their debut album, Maria Fumaça, both records delivering monster hits. In comparison, Águia Não Come Mosca, was only a modest hit, as it did include their third, and final telenovela hit, “Vôo Sobre o Horizonte” (Flight Over the Horizon) from the hit 1977 TV series, Locomotivas.
Águia Não Come Mosca
All of Azymuth’s album covers are striking, even through the eighties, the band’s visual aesthetic has always been bold and unique, like their music. The album cover for Águia Não Come Mosca, recently reissued on Mr. Bongo records, is no exception with their name in proto-Metal thunder-bolt font and an iconic eagle in front of an eclipsed sun, holding a tray of orbs. No big deal. Musically, the album is a notable evolution from their jazz-rock-samba fusion debut, which was lighter on samba and heavier on rock arrangements and stylings. Águia finds the band really coming into and defining their brand of music: samba doido, or “crazy samba.”
On tracks like “Circo Marimbondo”, “Tamborim, Cuíca, Ganzá, Berimbau,” “A Presa” and “Águia Negra X Dragão Negro,” samba IS the foundation, to which the trio add jazz improvisation, rock and funk moves. While the trio can make way more of a racket than any three people can conceivably produce, on record they do actually add some things in the post production: guitar on some tracks (Alex Malheiros or Paulinho Guitarra from Tim Maia’s band), additional percussion and plenty of studio effects like echo and reverb to give them that space bossa nova vibe on a dreamy track like, “Vôo Sobre O Horizonte.”
The change to the current and lasting name spelling of Azymuth with Águia also signals the trio’s settling on a style, their angular, funky and futuristic crazy-samba. Their next album, Light As a Feather would be for the the U.S. jazz heavyweight label Milestone, a rare leap for a Brazilian act. The band released ten albums in their enviable run (and another backing the Brazilophile jazz vocalist Mark Murphy) for Milestone. More than any other Brazilian musicians, this trio pushed the boundaries of their beloved samba internationally, but always with a heavy dose of jazz. As Mamão explained, they all came together around an appreciation of the same American jazz musicians, among them Bill Evans was singled out. “This similarity in taste – we liked the same musicians and the same bands,” Mamão recalls and that foundation allowed them to explore their own musical background with a shared musical palate, plus a bit of rock. I mean, it was the late sixties and seventies when the group formed, as Mamão summarizes: “our roots as a Brazilian band are principally samba with jazz and rock.”