If you like the music of artists like Milton Nascimento and Ivan Lins, you’ll enjoy this album too.
In + Out Records IOR CD 77152-2
Nanny Assis (vocals; percussion); Ron Carter (acoustic bass); Randy Brecker (fluegelhorn); Lakecia Benjamin (alto saxophone); John Ellis (alto saxophone; soprano saxophone); Igor Batman (alto saxophone); Fred Hersch (piano); Mattan Klein (flute); Chico Pinheiro (guitar); Vincius Cantuária (vocals, guitar, percussion); Jorge Helder (acoustic bass); Ulysses Owens Jr, Rafael Barata (drums); Luizinho Do Jêpe, Kainã Do Jêje, Marcio Brasil, Lacio Láercio DaCosta (percussion); Janis Siegal, Dani Assis, Laura Assis (vocals); Emanuel Yerday (spoken word); St Petersburg Studio Orchestra
Recorded August 2021-January 2022 Bass Hit Studios, New York
Brazilian-born Nanny Assis has been on the music scene for some forty years and lived in New York since 1999. This is only his second album as leader (his first was Double Rainbow in 2007). Assis normally sings, as well as playing guitar and percussion, (the CD booklet includes two photos of him with a guitar), but on this album, the talented Brazilian guitarist Chico Pinheiro (who has appeared on-stage with Herbie Hancock, John Scofield and Lee Ritenour) takes over guitar duties, playing on nine of the ten tracks.
Indeed, Rovanio (which is Nanny Assis’s true first name) has an impressive cast of musicians, including Ron Carter (who plays on eight tracks), Randy Brecker, pianist Fred Hersch (who has played with Art Farmer, Toots Thielman, Lee Konitz and Gary Burton) and saxophonist Lakecia Benajmin, who has played with Clark Terry, Reggie Workman and Stevie Wonder. Manhattan Transfer’s Janis Siegel also makes an appearance. Assis’s son Dani and daughter Laura also add vocal contributions.
Assis is from Bahia and his influences include João Gilberto and Miles Davis, hence his blending of Brazilian music and jazz. The opening number ‘No Agora’ is a reworking of Ron Carter’s ‘Mr Bow Tie,’ and starts off with the rich, deep tone of Carter’s bass, accompanied by the lush strings of the St Petersburg Studio Orchestra and the elegant sound of Randy Brecker’s fluegelhorn – it’s a graceful introduction. Assis has a light, delicate voice, like seeds floating in a breeze. ‘Nehum’ is a sweet bossa-nova, with Assis singing in Portuguese, accompanied by percussion and strings. The string arrangement (by Tiago Costa) really complements the sound and Chico Pinheiro plays a neat solo on acoustic guitar.
“Manhã de Carnaval,’ composed by Luiz Bonfá and Antônio Maria, is a serene, midtempo number, with Assis joined by son Dani, who harmonizes in places. ‘Amoromisso’ is one of the best numbers on the album, with a catchy vocal hook, cross-rhythms played on various percussion (the song features three percussionists), and Lakecia Benajmin’s blazing alto lines, laced with vibrato. There is a fire and a passion to the sound, and I wish there were a few more numbers like this on the record. ‘Human Kind’ is a gentle bossa-nova, calling for greater unity, which Assis sings in English and ends with some scat vocals at the coda. ‘Back To Bahia’ evokes sunshine and sandy beaches with its relaxed bossa-nova feel and Ron Carter’s graceful slides on the bass. Igor Bulman’s alto sax adds another voice to the sound.
‘Proponho’ (‘I Propose’) is a ballad with a dreamy feel, co-written by Assis and Janis Siegel. The two of them join forces on what is essentially a duet featuring just voice and piano (there are snatches of percussion in the mix). Their voices blend beautifully and they sing in both English and Portuguese. It’s another album highlight for me. Janis Siegel also co-wrote the next tune, ‘The Northern Sea,’ (along with Assis and Ivan Bastos – who also did the string arrangement) although she doesn’t sing on it. It’s the third and final performance with the St Petersburg Studio Orchestra. A song full of regret and yearning, the strings soar gently as Assis sings from the heart. John Ellis also plays a short soprano sax solo on this moving piece.
‘Insensatez’ is another gentle bossa nova tune, co-written by bassist Morrie Louden and Assis, and first appeared on Louden’s 2007 album Time Piece. Assis’s version is slower and is more spacious. He’s joined by daughter Laura on vocals, whose sweet voicings and doubling up with her father’s voice are the tune’s highlights. John Ellis ends the song with a flowing alto sax solo, which fades out a bit too soon for my ears. The closing number, ‘Intimate Acquaintances,’ features drums, acoustic bass and classical guitar, with the tender sound of Mattan Klein’s flute fluttering delicately like a butterfly. Assis sings the pleading lyrics in English. If you like the music of artists like Milton Nascimento and Ivan Lins, you’ll enjoy this album too. It’s very pleasant to listen to, although I would have liked the overall relaxed mood of the album to have been interspersed with occasional uptempo number.