TEMA, by Mike Gates – UK Vibe (UK)

Isn’t it nice when people do things well, really well? Fellow human beings (well some, but let’s not get cynical), can share their achievements and feel a genuine warmth and pleasure for them. This is how I feel listening to Antonio Adolfo’s latest release “Tema", an album that brings sunshine where there were clouds, light where there was dark, and joy where there was sorrow. Music that makes the heart leap with pleasure. For over half a century, pianist/composer Adolfo has dedicated himself to the exploration of jazz in the context of the great Brazilian music tradition. More than 200 of his songs have been recorded by his own groups and other major artists. “Tema" is a reflection upon his own accomplishments, drawing on a selection of his tunes dating back as far as the 1960’s that have been revisited, reworked and revitalised.
“The Portuguese word ‘tema’ is usually translated as theme, tune, melody or song" explains Adolfo, “but in this title I want to evoke a sense of a musician inviting others to play. That’s the way jazz players mean it in Brazil." And the composer’s invitation certainly turned out to be a welcome one for the musicians involved in the making of this album. They have responded by helping make a beautifully crafted album with some excellent moments for the listener to cherish. Highlights include the deliciously melodic “Natureza", featuring Marcelo Martins on flute. Martins provides the lead on several tracks and his soprano sax playing especially is both poignant and sublime. Adolfo has a natural flare for melody and many of his tunes sound so effortlessly tuneful one can’t help admire him. The Spanish guitar of Claudio Spiewak brings “SamboJazz" to life with its cool Brazilian beats provided by Rafael Barata on drums and Armando Marcal on percussion. This track also features a wonderful solo from electric guitarist Leo Amuedo. The chord changes and subtle playing from all the band members is set off perfectly by Adolfo’s whimsical hooks. “Alem Mares" is a gorgeous little tune that reminds me of the lighter, brighter side of an early Pat Metheny Group composition. Jorge Helder’s bass adds a touch of class, working well with the pianist’s easy-going nature of the tune. The two guitarists are a joy to behold, with both Anuedo on electric and Spiewak on acoustic putting in wonderful solos on the lively “Sao Paulo Express". Not to be outdone though, the smouldering soprano sax of Martins shimmers with life and vitality. He carries this through on to “Todo Dia", another lovely composition by the band leader. “Trem da Serra" provides a platform for all things great about this album, the lovely effortless feel, a sense of pleasure from all the musicians performing. Adolfo’s style and gentle charisma rubs off on all involved, subtlety and intelligence shining through. The album draws to a close with “Variations on a Tema Triste", an exquisite solo piece from Adolfo.

For an artist looking back on 50 years of his own music, this must have been a highly personal and emotional journey for Antonio Adolfo. The resulting album is a rewarding one for both the composer and the listener. Captivating arrangements and thoughtful, dynamic performances bring the music to life. A thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Mike Gates