Erik Charlston’s JazzBrasil Heats Up Lincoln Center

by delarue

Artists playing music they may not have grown up with – Japanese salsa bands, Brooklynites doing Peruvian surf music or French chanson – are typically held to a higher standard of “authenticity” than those who actually grew up in the culture that produced a particular style. Even by that lofty and doubtlessly unfair standard, vibraphonist Erik Charlston’s JazzBrasil delivered last night at Jazz at Lincoln Center. This was the album release show for their new one, simply titled Hermeto, a homage to composer Hermeto Pascoal just out on Sunnyside. While he cautioned that the next time this band plays here, they may do something completely different, Charlston’s passion for Brazilian music obviously runs deep. He even sang a bouncy frevo number in a surprisingly powerful baritone, in what – to American ears, at least – sounded like pretty perfect Portuguese.

With the personnel from the album – Ted Nash on soprano sax, clarinet and flute; Mark Soskin on piano; Jay Anderson on bass; Rogerio Boccato on drums, plus Cafe (Edson Da Silva) and guest Ze Mauricio on percussion – they ran through the recorded material with blazing assurance. Vale de Ribeiro, written literally in the middle of the rainforest, made a great choice of opener, Ze Mauricio cleverly and casually anchoring it down low with a clave beat. Both Charlston and Nash took what sounded like double the number of bars for their first solos, each building an electrifying flurry as they reached the turnaround. This didn’t leave much in the way of suspense but it was great fun to watch, and both times it took raised an already seriously elevated energy level. Then with his clarinet, Nash went deep and found the next tune’s inner musette, bringing a minor-key Belgian barroom uproar to the jungle. When Anderson wasn’t holding to a terse pulse, he was going way, way up where only violins usually go, joining his bandmates as they swung through the greenery. Conversely, some of Charlston’s most gripping work was when he moved to the marimba and its more bass-heavy tones. He wove a spiky fabric of textures in tandem with the piano, particularly on a long, slowly and intensely crescendoing duo number with Soskin.

Cafe opened a slinky maracatu number with a long, clanky berimbau solo that moved from wry suspense to a more tongue-in-cheek vibe; on the last song, a tribute to Rio, Boccato chose to steer clear of the carnaval jousting between the two other percussionists and took what might have been the night’s best solo, counterintuitively pulling off and then latching back onto the beat with a long, judicious series of punches and rattling rolls that both maintained the pulse while threatening to derail it completely. Of course, when the time came, the whole unit was there to land with both feet when Charlston signaled, the second time, for a joyous reprise of the Vale de Ribeiro theme.