Choro Ensemble - Nosso Tempo
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Choro Ensemble
Nosso Tempo
Anzic Records (www.anzicrecords.com)

Choro ("crying, lament") is an instrumental music that emerged in Rio de Janeiro in the latter nineteenth century, coming into full flower in the 1930s. It drew on European salon and military orchestra music, and such popular imports as polka, schottische, tango and waltz, all generously injected with an Afro-Brazilian rhythmic feel. Rooted in the music of Carnival, choro's affinity with samba is manifest, but strains of Portuguese fado, the morna of Cape Verde and early New Orleans jazz (Dixieland, minus the brass) are also audible.

One of few choro practitioners in the United States is the Choro Ensemble, which formed in New York in the late 1990s when São Paulo guitarist Pedro Ramos met Israeli jazz saxist-clarinetist Anat Cohen. Joining Ramos (cavaquinho, tenor guitar) and Cohen (clarinet) are Gustavo Dantas (guitar), Carlos Almeida (seven-string guitar) and Ze Mauricio (pandeiro, zabumba, surdo). They have a weekly gig at the Zinc Bar (Houston and La Guardia), an intimate setting where listeners sit only a few feet away from the performers, and everyone seems to know everyone else in a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere. They have toured Brazil twice, and have appeared at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the JVC Jazz Festival, and the Apollo Theater.

Nosso Tempo ("Our Time") essays mostly archetypal choros (Pixinguinha's "Ingênuo"; Jacob do Bandolim's "Gostozinho," "Noites Cariocas," "Orgulhoso," and "De Coração à Coração "; Radamés Gnattali's "Zanzando em Copacabana" and "Serenata no Joá"; and Waldir Azevedo's "Brazileirinho"). These inventive new arrangements respect the roots while moving into modern sonic territory. Cohen, Ramos, Dantas, and Almeida each also contribute delightful originals that revivify the canon and carry it forward.

Cohen, the only non-Brazilian in the group, captures choro's airy woodwind feel with her lyrical clarinet lines. Shifting from jazz, she says, entailed a demanding technical study to master choro's lightning runs and expressive melodic structure, prerequisites to improvisation. The precision interplay of strings is delicate yet robust, carried forward on Mauricio's driving yet restrained percussive swing. In this collective effort, each player enjoys ample room for invention, achieving an overall effect whose sparseness is evocative of the music's past as well as its promise in the hands of the Choro Ensemble.-Michael Stone

The band's web site: www.choroensemble.com

CDs available via cdroots.com

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