Saturday, November 10, 2018

Alexandra Jackson's Legacy & Alchemy

Yesterday it snowed here in Upstate New York for the first time this year, and this morning it was only 25 degrees when I walked my schnauzer Lucy. It's a perfect day, in other words, for a big fat chunk of Brazilian jazz. Alexandra Jackson, who is originally from Atlanta, has spent her life diving deep into Brazilian music after earning a degree in Jazz Studies at the University of Miami. She's also fond of American jazz and soul, including sub-genres such as Neo Soul and London Soul Jazz. All of the music she loves is represented on this 2-CD set, but it's the Brazilian themes that flows gently through Legacy & Alchemy and brings the sun out to warm the frozen ground.

This was a huge project for Jackson--she recorded these tracks in Atlanta, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, New York City, London and Chicago with more than 150 musicians. While she's known for her prowess as a singer and songwriter, she really wanted to pay tribute to her favorite performers such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gilberto Gil, Oscar Castro-Neves, Caetano Veloso, Carlinhos Brown and many more. She also wanted to throw in other jazz and pop influences, everyone from Lionel Richie ("Our Time Now") to Curtis King. Here's something interesting--she's also integrated performances from Miles Davis and Al Jarreau, along with Jobim and Castro-Neves, all sadly gone, into these songs. What's even more poignant is that Legacy & Alchemy includes the last two recordings from Rod Temperton, the producer who also wrote "Thriller," and the final two performances of Samba singer Dona Ivone Lara.

The title of this album becomes clearer when you consider the scope of the project--legacy, of course, refers to all the great performers, past and present, who guided this album. The alchemy comes from mixing all of these styles into one and having it come out as a unique whole. As I mentioned before, the Brazilian influences are the strongest and most constant--a few tracks such as "Our Time Now" stray from the formula--but there is a very modern and polished approach to this album that might be a product of the pop, jazz and acid jazz influences. With 150 musicians participating, not all at once of course, there is a tendency for bigness here. Jackson enlists the help of large ensembles, such as The Bossa Nova Noites Orquestra, to accomplish this. It's not quite Brazilian big band jazz, but it is lavish at times.

That's okay. Jackson clearly wanted to do something substantial in this tribute, and she's succeeded. The liner notes state that 2018 is the 60th anniversary of Bossa Nova, last year was the 100th anniversary of Samba, and just the year before that we celebrated Rio at the Summer Olympic Games. Over the last year I've reviewed a lot of Brazilian jazz, but we all know that this isn't some ephemeral trend. The music of Brazil has been with us for many decades, long before even Gilberto/Getz. We listen to it because it's warm and sunny. It's the perfect tonic for getting through another winter.

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