Issue #106: Bola Sete At The Monterey Jazz Festival by Bola Sete

March 26, 2018

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Bola Sete At The Monterey Jazz Festival by Bola Sete
Released In 1967
Released By Verve Records

This Week’s Selection Chosen By Davy Jones

I’m currently on the hunt for a copy of an album called From All Sides. It’s a collaborative album released in 1964 by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, whose name you’ll likely recognize if you’re like me in making A Charlie Brown Christmas part of your holiday music rotation, and Bola Sete, the Brazilian guitarist born in 1923 as Djalma de Andrade. From All Sides features an evolutionary version of one of the songs from that iconic Peanuts soundtrack; track two — entitled “Menino Pequeno da Bateria” — paved the way for “My Little Drum.”

I have a father who was obsessed with Christmas music to thank for how deeply I love and revere the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, but I have Mark Richardson, Executive Editor at Pitchfork, to thank for my From All Sides quest. He posted about the album on Twitter just before last Christmas, following that tweet with a more general heads up about Bola Sete’s playing and his masterful “Guitar Lamento” from 1972 album Ocean, which was originally released on Takoma Records, the label founded by influential guitarist John Fahey. “Guitar Lamento” is an arresting performance that moves and sways and speeds and slows, to the point that I was on the edge of my seat the first time I heard it even though I was listening through iPhone speakers after clicking on a YouTube link in a tweet. Not exactly a recipe for an immersive experience. Yet halfway through I’d already decided I needed to find both From All Sides and Ocean, and I’ve made sure to flip through the international sections of every record store I’ve set foot in since.

That’s how I stumbled across Bola Sete At The Monterey Jazz Festival — during a check of the Brazilian section on my way out of Plan 9. I sampled a bit using the turntable at the back of the store, decided it was a worthy first foray into Sete’s catalogue, and walked it over to the cash register. The other album tucked under my arm? Smog’s Knock Knock, which I’d called ahead to ask Plan 9 to hold after seeing on Instagram they had a used copy. It struck me a minute or so later, just after I walked outside and started heading back to my car, that Mark Richardson was also the reason I was holding that Smog album. Richardson is a vocal fan of Bill Callahan’s work (he ranked the singer-songwriter’s discography earlier in March), and while it took more than one try on my part over the past few years, I’m firmly on board.

Maybe that sounds to you like a coincidence. It’s certainly the case that if you spend enough time digging through record stores and scanning liner notes, you can connect just about any two records via some string of associations. But this was different. This was like some sort of success story in which analog and digital forces were acting ideally and simultaneously — a happy accident that needed both the distant, tenuous connections you can enjoy thanks to social media and the possibility for happenstance that opens up when you go out into the world and spend time physically browsing a store. I felt very lucky, and I felt very thankful to someone I haven’t shared but a few Twitter words with.

I still haven’t found copies of From All Sides or Ocean, but I’ve spun Sete’s live Monterey set repeatedly. First hearing “Guitar Lamento” was a secluded experience, both in terms of how I listened and how personal the playing seemed, but Bola Sete At The Monterey Jazz Festival has a wonderfully joyous and communal feel to it, from the way songs are introduced to the rapturous crowd reactions. I especially love how the percussion demo that stretches out over 10 minutes of Side A turns into a conversation between the audience and the players. It’s not quite as interactive as Donny Hathaway letting the audience sing the chorus to “You’ve Got A Friend,” but it’s a moment of real connection. I hope it helps you feel connected as well.

Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds

Brazilian samba legend Djalma de Andrade, better known as Bola Sete.

Clearly, Bola Sete is a virtuoso. He’s one of those rare talents that needs no musical accompaniment, but includes it for your enjoyment (or possibly to give himself a rest from time to time). But I feel this album is special because it gives us a glimpse at Bola Sete the showman. Sure, it’s a live performance, so that seems obvious. But as a DJ, I look at the set a bit differently than maybe the average listener. I really admire Sete’s sense of the crowd and pacing, which are also hallmarks of any great DJ. He knows when to bring the energy down, and let the audience breath, like on the uber jazzy “Coisa Numero Um,” probably the steadiest groove on the record. Conversely, he also knows when to swoop in and take the crowd on a ferocious high, like the closing run of “Flamenco,” where Sete strums and plucks his guitar with such gusto it reminds me more of a violin screeching with passion. Then there’s the incredible 8 minute percussion break in the middle of the “Black Orpheus Medley.” Tambourines, maracas and bongos take us on a spectacular journey that’s damn near melodic! At the end, when the guitars finally return for the coda, the crowd erupts into the biggest applause of the record. Sure, they appreciate what they just heard from the percussionists, but they also appreciate the way in which they heard it, how it was presented to them and the way it played on their emotions. Sete put together an immaculate, deliberate set that I’m so glad is immortalized on wax.

Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator

Bola Sete is a completely unfamiliar name to me, and now that I’ve checked him out I feel sort of bad about that. The guy’s got connections with jazz artists whose work I really enjoy, from bebop legend Dizzy Gillespie to Vince Guaraldi, who was responsible for my favorite Christmas album of all time. That said, Bola Sete plays acoustic guitar, and is from Brazil, so there are a lot of other influences at work on this live album featuring the trio Sete led during the mid-’60s. That trio features guitar, bass, and drums, but what I really take away at first listen from this music is its emphasis on percussion. The album begins with a 17-minute three-song medley that really just seems like a couple of pleasant Latin tunes separated by at least 10 minutes of multi-layered, super-rhythmic percussion. Sete is labeled a samba or bossa nova musician just as often as he’s labeled a jazz musician, which might seem at first blush like convenient cultural shorthand utilized by those who judge him without really listening. However, there is real validity to it, as these Brazilian musical styles inform a great deal of what Sete does, especially on standout track “Soul Samba.” So does the Spanish flamenco style that track three, “Flamenco,” is named for. That track takes on the feel of a genre exercise, as all other styles woven through Sete’s playing disappear within the trio’s immersion into Spanish flamenco. However, it stands firmly alongside the other tracks here in musical quality and inventiveness, making it every bit the equal of the other excellent musical pieces found herein. Don’t get me wrong, I am a jazz fan. However, I won’t pretend Sete’s take on the genre is the sort of music I listen to every day (I lean more towards Davis and Coltrane, myself). Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience listening to the Bola Sete trio for 45 minutes or so, and it’s the kind of musical detour I should probably take more often. You should too.

Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground

So many of my mornings start with dusty jazz records being wiped down yet again. Grayed, peeling album covers that somehow grabbed my attention from amidst stacks of Christmas and religious albums have yielded, so many times, gorgeous music best played in my quiet, solitary weekend mornings. The energy poured into good jazz has fueled so many essays, so many drawings and meals in my house, and Bola Sete At The Monterey Jazz Festival took me straight into that kind of weekend from the striking first tracks, “Black Orpheus Medley.” This unbelievably clear live concert recording creates that kind of poppy, plucky experience you can share in silence, in quick glances and smiles and the applause at the end. Propelled by a unique South American flair, Bola Sete’s live album feels polished and feral, wildly frenetic and beautiful. I hear this album and I look ahead to welcome spring breezes, to bread dough rising on the counter while I get out my pens and notebook, ready to work as the music dances through my day.

Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite

Bola Sete’s stage name (“seven ball” in Brazilian) references his unique placement on stage, something his performances often mirrored to staggering results.

Bola Sete, Sebastião Neto, and Paulinho da Costa are all immensely gifted musicians, no doubt. It can be heard in a variety of ways throughout this set: the 17-minute medley that opens it, the interplay and call-and-response of “Soul Samba,” and the utter gliding-on-a-cloud beauty of “Coisa Numero Um.” The band is clearly having a blast here — note the light-hearted nature of the medley’s back half — which makes the proceedings all the more enjoyable for anyone who’s listening — especially the audience. Speaking of, notice how quiet they are during the performances. Even the applause between them is polite and measured. The restraint shown here reminded me of Live Phish Volume 4 in Japan where the audience was similarly tranquil and reserved, only showing its praise between jams. This, of course, is probably typical of live jazz, yet having only heard a handful of live jazz recordings in my life makes it particularly jarring. I prefer my live records to be in the vein of Alive! or How The West Was Won — ya know, boisterous and loud. And then it occurred to me: while marveling at how quiet the audience is, I realized that if Sete, Neto, and da Costa were playing this in front of me, I’d be stunned into silence, too.

Steve Lampiris (@stevenlampiris)
Sure, Let’s Go With That

Read a little about who Bola Sete was and it’s difficult not to become fascinated by his life story alone. Continue on to the part of exploring his life that actually involves listening to what he accomplished and things only get more impressive. In the somewhat short time the man was with us (he passed away at only age 63,) Bola Sete was able to release lots of recordings and countless performances of wonderfully lively jazz fusion of Latin, Brazilian, and other cultural flavors. Bringing an avalanche of talent and genuine passion to all these niche styles during his life, Bola Sete really is one of those cases of “under-appreciated gem.” Rarely does music that highlights the classical style of the acoustic guitar break through to the mainstream audience and in recent times, perhaps only Rodrigo y Gabriela’s heavier, metal-influenced performance style really comes to mind. (Though perhaps the emergence of Disney and Pixar’s Coco as this year’s winner of Best Animated Picture and Best Original Song at the Oscars will help to boost interest in the style.) It’s a shame given that, stacked next to one another, Bola Sete and Rodrigo y Gabriela are all talented and energetic musicians who could easily command attention in a concert hall or on stage at a festival, as the former did in 1967 for this live recording at Monterey. On the one hand, there are almost too many nuances of praiseworthy execution and individual performance character displayed by Bola Sete to recount in a reasonable amount of time. It would be more advised, as is the primary objective of Off Your Radar, for you to simply pull the album up to stream and just give the short six track release some quality, undivided attention. The recording itself is older and there is lovely bits of sonic sincerity that remain. It’s a transportation recording — taking listeners back to the time of the festival and making them a part of the audience that applauds in waves for Bola Sete before every song begins. On the other hand, while concentrated listening and recognition of subtlety is well worthwhile, turn the volume up high enough and it simultaneously doesn’t matter if one listens closely or not. Bola Sete’s enthusiasm — whether gentle but soulful like in “Manha De Carnaval,” (part of “Black Orpheus Medley“) or, effortlessly precise and joyfully fluid when performing “Flamenco” — makes the whole recording perfect for relaxed exhalation or dancing along. In either case of meticulous observation or collective experiential listening, the outcome is likely to be the same: “Wow, that guy, and that music, is good!”

Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier

Before I talk about the album, it’s very important for me to say a word about Bola Sete, the man: He and I share a birthday, Mr. Sete having been born exactly 60 years before me. That’s all. I just felt it was crucial to point that out. As for the album, I loved it more with each listen. In a way, it felt like the same sensation where, when you’re driving to a place for the first time, it seems completely impossible to imagine how you’ll ever learn the way. But then you drive there again. And again. And, after a while, landmarks start to crop up. For me, it was, during the “Black Orpheus Medley” that makes up the first side of the LP, what I thought of as “the sad dog part.” I would have guessed that it was someone’s horn that was making the noise of a whining and conversational dog, but with only drums, bass, and guitar as options, it simply has to be Bola Sete’s guitar. Which means that he takes a break in the middle of a song to turn his “guitar solo” into an exchange between himself and what feels like another sentient being. It’s weird and wild and really funny. And it’s very memorable. So, when I listened to it for the second and third time, I knew to anticipate that, which left me free to notice the amazing musicianship that surrounds that part, which is itself also a feat of amazing musicianship. There are multiple drum solos. Which are amazing. If the album was just the first song, I would have been completely satisfied, but instead we are treated to four more songs (double what remained on the second side of the LP) and that feels very much like a gift. I think my lasting impression of this album will be the parts where it sounds like the three instruments are kind of doing their own thing, but then, all of a sudden, they snap into formation. It’s a powerful move and it happens several times on this wonderful album.

James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts

The Monterey Jazz Festival had been Bola Sete’s biggest & most fruitful exposure to audiences, beginning in 1962 with Dizzy Gillespie and culminating in this 1966 recording.

This slightly curious album represents the aftershocks of three seismic musical events in America starting in the late fifties: the rise of Brazilian music, the popularity of jazz festivals, and the release of Black Orpheus, a retelling of the ancient myth of Orpheus and Eurydice set in Brazil. The first and third of these elements not only introduced people to samba and bossa nova, but also rescued jazz from the doldrums (sales-wise) caused by its own increasing intellectualism and the rock & roll explosion. The landmark Getz/Gilberto album (1964), for example, sold millions of copies and pulled down four Grammy awards, including Album Of The Year, only one of two jazz albums to win that prize in the history of the Grammys. Its success helped fuel jazz festivals across the country, from Newport to Monterey, which is where Bola Sete took the stage in 1966 to record this album. His accomplices were drummer Paulhino Da Costa, a legendary percussionist who has played with hundreds of luminaries from Hugh Masakela to Eric Clapton, and Sebastiao Neto, an excellent bass player who, although uncredited, laid down those perfect lines on the Getz album. Black Orpheus was not only many people’s first foreign film, its soundtrack music was filled with instant standards that were recorded dozens of times in the decade after it came out. Thus it makes sense that Sete’s album would lead off with an almost 18-minute fantasia on themes from the film, which on the original release would have taken up Side One of the LP. The performance itself is filled with virtuosic dynamic shifts and several percussion breakdowns, which may have also carried visual interest on the stage in Monterey. I was actually somewhat disoriented from the beginning, feeling like I had already missed something because of Sete’s introductory “Thank you, thank you very much. And now, we’d like to play selections from Black Orpheus…” Wait — is this the middle of the concert? What else did they play? Confusion was keeping me from getting into the record so I dug into Discogs and found the answer: Besides the fact that two songs were excised from the original release, the rest of it was out of sequence on the album. Now, with the CD version having included all five songs they performed, I was able to put it back in order for a listening experience that was more coherent. You may be wondering why I was jumping through all these hoops to get into a record that is probably pure joy to many people — including our own irrepressible Davy Jones. The fact is that while there is some sweet playing and loads of technical skill, I was never completely won over… which really put my head in a spin as I love so much Brazilian music. Astrid and Joao Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Baden Powell, Os Mutantes, Azymuth, Jorge Ben, Gilberto Gil, Mallu Magalhães, Boogarins — these artists have made some of my favorite songs and records ever. I also hang on every word from Far Out’s website to see what new old treasure they’ve dug up this time. But Bola Sete’s album is making me realize that my taste isn’t always linear and that jazz festivals may not have always brought out the best in people, all of which is valuable information for my listening life. Even so, I encourage you to listen to Bola Sete At The Monterey Jazz Festival whatever your relationship to Brazilian music. Let it lead you back to some of its origins and forward to some of its more recent exemplars, including the artists I mentioned above, some of whom are in this playlist I made years ago. And if you do listen, do yourself (and Bola Sete) a favor and play it in order.

Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore

The live aspect is key here. Something about hearing the applause and the cheers from the crowd and the acoustics of a live venue on a track makes it that much more personal to me, in a way. I can close my eyes and imagine the setting; I can be transported to the show and just really take it in. I love this kind of latin/instrumental music because it does not age. It could have been released at any point in time and it still manages to remain relevant. It is joyful, relaxing, and very uplifting. I feel like I want to be listening to this on a beach watching the sun go down (but maybe that’s also because this winter has gone on far too long). But in any case, listening to this album brought some much needed sunshine to my week!

Chelsea Kostrey (@chelseakostrey)
Retrophile & Festival Enthusiast

First things first, this is music that is just impressive, played by talented musicians all backing up a singularly special guitarist, one Bola Sete. But you probably could have guessed that, right? Why else would we be covering a jazz record from the ’60s? And when’s the last time you read a jazz review where someone didn’t describe the musicians as “talented” with a superlative or three tacked on before or after? Honestly, the skill of Bola Sete is something you should make room in your day for… but that’s not enough to convince you. And it’s not your fault. Don’t worry — no one’s shaming anyone here. Jazz can be disorienting. It can be convoluted. For those looking to just put something on, it can even seem presbyopic. Basically, it’s not something you’re going to casually fall into after hearing a radio song, like Eric Clapton did for reggae or Blondie did for rap (gross simplifications, I know). If you’re going to test the waters here, you’re going to need something strong to tether you to a safe place, a frame of reference if you will. Thankfully, Bola Sete has those frames of references in spades, from legendary trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie to equally legendary, but more notable Vince Guaraldi. (Trust me, you know at least five people who own A Charlie Brown Christmas on vinyl… and they’ll never shut up about it… and they never should.) For even a casual music fan, those two names alone should be worthy of a strong tether, but I was still hesistant about jumping in, worried I’d float out into this sea with no real sense of direction or even one workable compass out of my genre bag of compasses (compai?). But within the first few bars of “Black Orpheus Medley,” I heard it: the gypsy swing of Django Reinhardt. Some internet sleuthing and some really in-depth (aka “boring” for non-geeks) videos confirmed my suspicion: Bola Sete wasn’t just influenced by Reinhardt, he was actively incorporating, as either whole or inverse ideas, parts and techniques Reinhardt had done years prior. Pretty much all of these references flew by me — just like a list of Marvel movie Easter Eggs that make you wonder, “Why are people stopping the movie every single frame?” — but I was still able to feel the same sense of vigor that endeared me to Le Jazz Hot within songs like “Flamenco” and “Coisa Numero Um.” More importantly, being able to find true north in this manner, I was able to explore Bola Sete’s marvelous music much more carefully and truly appreciate the musical motifs that gravitated around its manouche center. Maybe you’re not like me and don’t need that strong tether. There’s certainly a lot of melody and emotion to ground the lofty jazz sound here, but if you do, trust that Sete’s made sure this music comes equipped with as many tethers as you might possibly need.

Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart

Next Week’s Selection:
Against Perfection by Adorable
Chosen By Drew Necci

Off Your Radar Newsletter

Editor: Doug Nunnally

Contributors: James Anderson, Laura Burroughs, Erin Calvert, Catherine Dempsey, Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford, Dustin Gates, Kira Grunenberg, Davy Jones, Chelsea Kostrey, Steve Lampiris, David Munro, Drew Necci, & Jeremy Shatan

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