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Nando Michelin - Chants: A Candomble Experience

DTRCD - 169

Nando Michelin / Piano, Jerry Bergonzi / Tenor sax, Fernando Huergo / Bass, Steve Langone / Drums, Sula da Silva / Percussion, Alex Alvear / Voice
Giana Viscardi and Sharine Ganse / Voice (response), Katie Viqueira / Voice on OXUMARE, Chiara Civello / Voice on IEMANJA

4-Offering to the tides
5-Avamunha, the gathering.

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Nando Michelin has long embraced the popular music of Brazil. He heard those enchanting sounds as a youngster, playing classical piano in his native Montevideo, Uruguay. And after he moved to his current hometown, Boston, in 1989 to study at the Berklee College of Music-from which he graduated in 1993-Michelin played, and continues to play, his share of Brazilian gigs, usually with singers like the highly talented Giana Viscardi.

   “The songs have nice grooves, nice harmonies and I’ve learned a lot on those gigs,” says the pianist/composer, a versatile fellow who keeps busy with, among other assignments, leading his own band, playing with drummer Bob Moses, and accompanying Argentine tango singer Katie Viqueira and Brazilian vocalist Viscardi. “I always thought that I’d do a Brazilian/jazz album at some point, but I’ve been more into [pure] jazz. Brazilian music was just a really nice way to make part of my living.”

   That all changed in summer, 1999, when Nando did a Brazilian gig on which the percussion player, Sula Da Silva, started to sing a Candomblé chant.

   This chant was drawn from the Pre-Christian religion of that name which originated in West Africa and was brought by slaves to Brazil, where it was practiced sub rosa during Catholic services. The religion, which combines ritual, music and words in the African Yoruban language, still has many disciples today.

    “It was so appealing, the words, the sounds,” Michelin remembers of hearing the chant. “Then I asked Da Silva to come by my house and jam on the chants. He knew only two, and I started playing with those. Later, he gave me a CD with chants and as I started listening, I knew this would be my next project. I could hear the whole album. I just had to fill in the blanks. It all came out without me having to think too much about it.”

   It, of course, is Chants: A Candomblé Experience, Michelin’s second Double Time Records album, a compelling and very musical follow-up to Art (DTRCD-144). It combines ten chants with the Michelin jazz pieces they inspired. The music, underpinned by a wealth of Afro-Latin rhythms, is delivered by a splendid cast which includes Michelin, tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, bassist Fernando Huergo, drummer Steve Langone-all holdovers from Art-along with percussionist Da Silva and singers Alex Alvear, Sharine Ganse,
Chiara Civello, Viscardi and Viqueira.

   Michelin hardly considers himself an expert in Candomblé, but he has studied the religion so that he might feel comfortable in dealing with it musically. “I wanted to know something of its personality,” he says. He’s read a good deal, and he’s had some hands-on lessons from Jorge Alabe, whose last name is a title meaning  ‘Master of the drums.’ “Jorge, who lives in New Orleans, is one of the few people allowed to teach the rhythms and the chants. He was of great help in my making the album.”

   To start, Michelin picked chants, which are named for Orixás, or Candomblé gods or goddesses, each of which has a particular aspect and its own rhythm. “The religion is based in the oral tradition, there are no books, so chants are needed to transmit stories about the Orixás,” says the pianist, whose influences range from innovative jazz pianists Bud Powell and Bill Evans and current bright light Danilo Perez to classical composers Hindemith and Granados, and pop, Latin and Brazilian musics.

   “The chants I wanted clicked as tunes,” Nando explains. “So I took a phrase from each, creating the different songs which we could improvise on. That’s the flavor behind the album, to go from chants and rhythms to improvised jazz. I also wanted to capture the spirit of the Candomblé ceremony, where all the Orixás come down, and the people chant for long hours. When we recorded, we did three sections without stopping. After you play for a while, the ideas flow more, the music flows through you more.”

   The album, which runs almost seamlessly from beginning to end, opens with a brief chant for Exu, the messenger who calls the Orixás down for the ceremony. Out of this chant, sung by Alvear (unlike the others, which are sung by Alvear, Viscardi and Ganse), a bassline emerges that centers the subsequent “Xango,” for the god of fire, thunder and justice. A rhythmically dynamic section segues to expressive solos from both the fluent Michelin, and then Bergonzi, who plays with customary passion and his warm, open sound.

   Another “Xango” chant ends the piece, which leads to “Iemanjá,” the chant of the popular goddess of the sea. Then, Michelin crafts a lovely wordless vocal based on that chant, sung with feeling by Civello. A piano solo which reveals Nando’s affinity for offering succulent melody in a hearty rhythmic manner follows this.

    “Iemanjá” is climaxed by “Offering to the Tides,” a harmonic sequence that “goes from key to key, resembling the sea,” notes Nando. “Here, Jerry blows on top of this with his usual incredible good taste. At the end of his cadenza, he introduces the new key for “Avamunha (The Gathering),” which has a punchy beat. “This is the rhythm that is used to call the congregation, but I didn’t feel like opening with this,” declares the leader. A dialog ensues between the rhythm section and soloist Bergonzi, “though some phrases we play together.” Langone steps in with a few remarks as well, then all quiets down for an introspective Nando interlude which precedes the rollicking “Obaluaie,” written in a rhythm called apanije.

    “This resembles a lot of New Orleans grooves,” says Michelin. Bergonzi solos over the voices-a cool effect. Percussion states the apanije at the close, over which Viqueira sings the subsequent “Oxumare” chant a cappella. “This is amazing singing,” exudes Nando, who segues into a dulcet trio ballad in 4/4, which turns into a slow 12/8 known as an Argentinian chacarera. Viqueira sings the chant once more to close.

    “Oxossi” is fun and upbeat rhythmically. It opens with a vibrant chant and then goes into what Nando calls “a minor Phyrgian mode blues,” where Bergonzi lets loose, keeping the heat up over an undulating beat. The pianist’s solo is somewhat more subdued, even with a hint of mystery, though perky in its own way.

    A repeat of the opening chant and suddenly the voices, with Alvear on top, have led us into “Iansa,” which becomes a lyrical song in 3/4 as conceived by Michelin. His typical fluidity and sense of melody marks his improvisation, after which the tenorman steps up for yet another turn that blends tunefulness with a driving intensity.

   Again, there’s a surprising segue to the “Ossanhe” chant, and a reprise of a rhythm that we heard briefly in “Iemanjá” on which, Nando says, he wrote a tune in 5/4 “where the notes are all in the cracks. There’s a lot of unresolved tension, and the way Jerry phrases is very haunting.” Indeed, the same can be said for the leader’s effort. Then there’s a held chord, where Bergonzi improvises freely and vocally, strong at first, then softer and softer into silence.

   “This was a magical moment,” Michelin says. “I told Jerry this is the Oxala chant, dedicated to the last Orixa in the Candomblé ceremony. He’s kind of analogous to Jesus Christ, and he has to bless the project. At one point, Jerry had this amazing dialog between the upper and lower registers of his saxophone. We all got goose bumps with that ending.”

   Nando, as you might imagine, had nothing but praise for his colleagues. “I was surrounded by a great bunch of brilliant musicians,” he begins. “Jerry is one of my biggest influences, and he’s definitely my favorite improviser. You can never say enough about Jerry. Fernando is one of my oldest friends in Boston. We share the same tastes, have a very strong connection. Steve and I have played a lot in the last five years. He can play any style, which makes him perfect for me. Sula, he made it click. Alex was perfect for the chants because he knew the style. He nailed it. Giana and Sharine are both great singers. The colors of their voices really fit the project. Katie, whose album, ‘The Other Side,’ I produced, is such a powerful singer with an incredible voice. Here, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. And Chiara is also amazing, a wonderful improviser who writes great tunes. Someone will sign her soon.”

    Michelin has visions for this music. “I want to play it live, further explore the interaction between the Brazilian and the jazz,” he states. “I also want to get a dance company to do choreography, do a jazz ballet where the dancers are guiding the audience through the music with the different characters associated with the Orixás, where there’s room for improvisation and where the dancers could improvise as well.”

    Given the depth and quality of the music that’s contained on Chants: A Candomblé Experience, that would have to be a stunning presentation.
Zan Stewart - June 15, 2000

 The chants used as inspiration for this recording are ageless African religious chants that where brought to Brazil by the slaves and survived all intents of eradication, be it from slave owners as well as governments who saw in the religious activities associated with them a threat to their control. I would like to apologize for any mistake that could have happened in the handling of the information I used, but it was done with utmost respect. (Avamunha, the gathering, should open the CD, but for artistic reasons I decided to place it where it is).

 Even though the chants were used by us without any conscious religious purpose, I would like it to be a tribute to all those who by their actions show us the beauty of tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness. 

Thank you: As usual, to my beautiful family, that opened all the doors for me to travel the ever rewarding road of music. This includes my wife Paula who brought a lot of peace to concentrate and appreciate the importance of art, and my son Tiago who keeps teaching me about life and love. Jerry, Fernando, Steve, Sula, Alex, Katie, Chiara, Giana and Sharine for all the musicianship displayed as well as the support showed throughout all moments. Peter Kontrimas, Jamey, Rodolfo, Leonora.
Also: Perro Andaluz, Katie y Quiel, Felipe, Bertram, Gustavo, Pedro, Bob Moses, Sergio Faluotico, Jorge Alabe, Deraldo, Gwen and Rob (AJC), very special thanks to Charlie whose priceless help will always be appreciated, and my students who keep challenging me every day. Above all Thanks to God, Jesus Christ and beloved guru Paramahansa Yogananda.