For many centuries the sea-bound Portuguese have been looking across the ocean. In the wake of their role in history, a wide and exciting multicultural network arose that is very much alive until today, first of all in music. The vivid rhythmical and melodious universe between Lisbon, the lusophone African countries and Brazil has always fascinated the guitarist Joel Xavier. Having just successfully anchored his latest opus in New York - in collaboration with his prominent duo-partner Ron Carter -, he now shifts focus to the pulsating dynamics of south-atlantic regions with his new album „Saravá“. Xavier´s live-record debut also marks his return to the electric jazz guitar.
„On this live-recording I perform with a powerful trio“, explains Joel Xavier, „and any acoustic guitar would have been drowned out. So what I needed was a more present, but at the same time smooth sound, to make it easier for the audience to understand the improvisation lines.“ Xavier resumes the times prior to his balladic acoustic-trilogy, when he and his guest-musicians recorded the album „Latin Groove“ on the premises of Arturo Sandoval in Miami during the early storm- and stress days of his career. It had been his first fusion of Latin- and Afro-rhyhtms then, to be continued now upon other terms. „This time, I am telling my story rather from the view of a Portuguese, who points out the strong impact of african and brazilian influences upon every day of his life. That project has been on my mind for ages.“
Owing to several fortunate coincidences, the project could be realized with lightning-speed now. Xavier met the bass-player Gustavo Roriz from Sao Paulo, while he was looking for a partner to put on stage the Ron-Carter-Project. When he talked enthusiastically about his plans for the new programme, and time ran short to find a drummer, Roriz immediately came up with his compatriot Milton Batera, who was just leaving Florianopolis for Lisbon. That the three had a good chemistry became obvious just when Xavier was invited to perform in a concert series in Lisbon´s most beautiful theater, the São Luiz. Spontaneously and with no rehearsal at all, the brand-new trio performed Xavier´s compositions. Xavier comments about this venture: „Thanks to their ancestry, Gustavo and Milton have an inborn empathy for brazilian and african rhythms. They can cope with any rhyhtm quite easily, even if they do not know each and every one inside out. I could trust them blindly , breathed a sigh of relief and jammed on in high spirits.“
It ist fascinating to dip into the genealogy of the tracks. To begin with, there is the title-song of the disk: „Saravá“, a shout of the Samba-musicians meant to spread positive energy. It is this very energy, that Xavier wants to make the motto of the concert. His main concern is to release Jazz from its intellectual dead-end and to cultivate it for the audience - dancing allowed! And he successfully demonstrates, that you can make it - sophisticated, rhythmically complex music, that is at the same time optimistic and full of life. And we need it badly, too, just now, in the face of all the crises and catastrophes of our young 21st century – so his credo. To trigger off this energy, he gets his inspiration from the ritual power of the brazilian Capoeira martial dance („Ginga“, „Mandinga“) as well as from the afro-brazilian Candomblé-religion („ljexà“). He quotes the elementary power of the original Samba before it became commercialized, and relied in Bahia on nothing but the language of the drums and the human voice – a role he is taking on with his Gibson-Guitar („Batucada“). And last not least, Xavier makes us prick up our ears to the manifaceted variety of the lusophone Africa: the concert includes a dedication to his CapeVerdian friends, captures their calm and melancholy „Spirit“, or „Morabeza“, which is the indigineous expression of the archipelago. Literally a fiery tribute to Angola, the longtime former home of Xavier´s family, is finally „Jindungo“, the local name of a spicy chilli pepper – symbolizing, that this composition with the Samba-rhythm of the african prototype indeed has ants in the pants.
And then one more, last surprise: on „Saravá“ Joel Xavier turns out to be a singer. Like one of his favourites, George Benson, he enhances his improvisations with audacious scatting. And he even takes one step further and duplicates himself vocally during the theme. He sees nothing extraordinary in this. „All my songs grow out of a melody, that leaps into my mind. While singing to the guitar, I try to develop and refine the composition. Now I did that for the first time during a live performance – because I wanted to be as authentic als possible and show to the audience what is happening deep inside me.“ „Saravá“ is a gripping , straightforward evidence of Xavier´s joy of playing between the continents.
Translation: Birke Bossmann