Soundbrush Records is proud to release pianist Roger Davidson’s new album, Journey to Rio. Recorded in Rio de Janeiro, the project features a wide range of top-flight Brazilian musicians and was produced by Pablo Aslan, the gifted Argentine bassist.
For Roger Davidson, music is a world without boundaries. Both as a composer and pianist, he has a fearless reach. Though often termed a classical artist, Davidson has explored tango, klezmer, Latin music, and jazz in recent years, however he has always held the multifaceted sounds of Brazil especially close to his heart. His long-standing passion for Brazilian music has resulted in several albums, including Bom Dia (2007) and Brazilian Love Song (2009). His latest, Journey to Rio, is a double-disc release showcasing 28 original Brazilian compositions.
Having traveled the world to learn about all styles of music, international synergy is in Davidson’s blood. Born in Paris to a French mother and American father, his family relocated to New York shortly after. Davidson began playing piano at the age of four, ultimately discovering the bossa nova recordings of Stan Getz at age 10 through his babysitter playing Getz’ Big Band Bossa Nova. “That was the start of my lifelong love affair with Brazilian music. I thought it was beguiling, uplifting, sexy, relaxing, and very melodic. It made me want to go to Brazil to find out where the music came from.” Nearly fifty years later, he found out.
In October 2011, accompanied by Aslan, Davidson took his first trip to Brazil with the intention recording this project. “I’ve been living with the music for forty years,” he says, “so it was almost like a homecoming.” Most of his eight days there, which he spent in Rio de Janeiro, were occupied by six recording sessions.
Journey to Rio features deeply emotional Brazilian love songs alongside Davidson’s French inspired compositions. These compositions enforce a sense of rooted emotion that melds Davidson’s vast life experiences of international culture with the modern expressions of Brazilian jazz. With Davidson melody always comes first. “Any music has to start with a strong melodic line,” he asserts. Like Debussy with his Preludes, Davidson gives his compositions titles that evoke scenes suggested by the music. They focus largely on love and nature, the prevailing themes of the bossa nova. Meanwhile, he pays more than passing respect to the moody, pulsing sound he heard on those Getz bossa records.
The sessions include two respected bassists: bossa nova veteran and acoustic player Sérgio Barrozo and electric bassist Ney Conceição, who was a longtime collaborator of João Bosco. The resulting line-up of trombonist Gilmar Ferreira, soprano and tenor saxophonist Marcelo Martins, percussionist Marco Lobo, guitarist Leonardo Amuedo, and alternating drummers Paulo Braga and Rafael Barata showcases some of Rio’s finest musician.
The tightness of the ensemble work and comfortable grooves belie the fact that the sessions began with no written arrangements and minimal rehearsal. “The music was worked out in the studio day by day,” Davidson notes. “I didn’t even know exactly what tunes I was going to record. I’m not obsessed with writing out every note. I’m an improviser. Playing with other good improvisers, you reach greater heights of inspiration and spontaneity. I want to leave open space for other musicians to find their own voice within my tunes.”
You’ll hear it in “Love Across Time”, one of the album’s most heartfelt compositions. Davidson wrote it as he and his wife were separating. The song, he says, expresses “a love that transcends unhappiness.” “Onde Está o Amor?” explores the stated theme with the same sort of melodic improvising that make the Getz albums so appealing. Braga’s playing is gentle as a whisper, yet carries the song forward with a sure touch. “O Unico Amor”is a richly melodic piece. “I was thinking about how it feels to have one love above all. It was a pretty deep feeling that inspired the tune,” explains Davidson. This deep emotion translates to the dark, aching bossa nova “Memories of Deborah”, written as a gift to a close friend of Davidson who lost his wife to cancer.
Amuedo is the star of “Sonho do Amor”, a throbbing bossa with a touch of saudade, the Portuguese word for a sometimes-indefinable yearning. “I was definitely thinking intently of Brazil in this tune,” says Davidson. The most intimate tracks are the duets: “Olhos de Ouro” teams Davidson with Amuedo for a spacious dialogue in which silence is the third partner, while “Amantes para Sempre” is a showcase for the expansive, lyrical trombone playing of Ferreira, who states the theme then takes it apart with some of his prettiest improvising.
Bossa may be Brazil’s most famous musical export, but it’s not the only one that Davidson presents. “Sonho de Amanha” takes the album into the realm of modern Brazilian jazz, while “Bridge to Bahia” evokes the brighter side of a state in the northeast of Brazil, where African and Brazilian culture meet in the most soulfully percussive music to be found anywhere in the country. The title track, “Journey to Rio”, keeps the party going. Ferreira and Martins (on soprano) state the rollicking tune in perfectly synchronized unison then Davidson and Martins solo at racing speed. Davidson wrote “To Brazil with Love” an hour before his show at Sala Baden Powell. This ruminative piano solo stands as his valentine to a place that instantly felt like home to him. “I felt that my internal rhythm slowed down in Rio,” says Davidson.
With his work on the international front, it comes to no surprise that France, was also on his mind throughout these sessions. He brought the countries together musically on “Je m’en Souviens”, which intertwine piano and soprano sax with utter simplicity. “Soir Brésilien” is a piano solo with a quiet grandeur and a French flavor. “It also has a Brazilian character in the harmony and melodic ideas,” notes Davidson. “Embrasse-moi” showcases the French influence while featuring the delicate interplay of Davidson and Amuedo, whose playing breathes together.
Davidson’s deep passion for all genres of music drove him to establish the Society for Universal Sacred Music, devoted to works that “have a message of unity and aspiration that included all humanity.” The Society is now a worldwide organization, dedicated to commissioning new works and presenting performances all over the world.
Ultimately, Davidson’s entire career and love of international jazz has led up to the release of Journey to Rio. “It’s been a great blessing that I’ve been able to do so many things well, and that they feel natural, as part of the global musical vocabulary I’ve developed,” he says. “I feel a lot of empathy for all kinds of good music – music that really comes from the heart and that seeks to communicate passion and positive feelings.”