Coisas

Santos, Moacir

album cover

A Big Band Sound like No Other

This 1965 recording from Brazilian composer, arranger, and saxophonist Moacir Santos offers ten generically identified selections. "Coisas" means "things" in Portuguese, and each song is assigned just a number— there's "Thing 1," "Thing 2," etc. It's a device, to be sure, but it has at least one positive effect: It encourages no preconceptions about what's coming.

That's exactly the way to approach this often beautiful coupling of Brazilian rhythm and jazz harmony. Santos's pieces begin with lighthearted melodies floating over rhythms derived from bossa nova. The themes seem slight at times, like caprices dashed off on a whim. Santos surrounds them with airy orchestrations that use the colors of the big band in new ways. His compositions reflect the influence of jazz legend Duke Ellington: Born in poverty in rural Brazil of the 1920s, Santos ran away from a foster home at fourteen. He learned saxophone, and as a young man supported himself by playing in marching bands in Rio. He began writing music after hearing the Ellington band on record, and landed his first big job—writing music for Brazil's Radio Nacional—in the late 1950s.

Like Ellington, Santos wrote with the specific strengths and sonorities of his players in mind. For the ensemble passages, he seeks a kind of pastel lushness, and then asks the soloists to provide the heat. Many of these pieces feature ad-libs from Santos (he's remarkably dexterous on the big baritone saxophone), or the taciturn piano of Chaim Lavak. Recorded in three days, at a time when jazz in Brazil wasn't terribly adventurous, Coisas influenced such future giants as Sergio Mendes. It remains a shining example of cultural cross-pollination that enriches—and expands upon—its sources.

Genre: World, Brazil
Released: 1965, Universal International
Key Tracks: "Thing 3," "Thing 5."
Buyer Beware: The 2005 rerecording is less interesting.
Catalog Choice: Saudade
Next Stop: Abdullah Ibrahim: African Space Program
After That: Chico O'Farrill: Cuban Blues
Book Pages: 673–674

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