REVIEW: Samba Azul at the Jazz Café

Samba Azul with Mishka Adams (foreground)
Samba Azul
(Jazz Café. 14 January 2018. Review by Peter Jones.)

London on a cold, drizzly January night is very much in need of sunny vibes, and the first outing for drummer Adam Osmianski’s new latin band Samba Azul was the perfect antidote. Their Jazz Café set was dedicated to the music of Sergio Mendes, but anyone expecting Going Out of my Head or Fool on the Hill or The Look of Love was in for a surprise: the big hits were avoided, and everything was sung entirely in Portuguese. This was much appreciated by an audience full of ex-pat Brazilians, most of whom joined in happily with every tune.

Magalenha (from a late Mendes album called Brasileiros) consisted of voices and drums/percussion only, starting the evening off on a suitably primal note. The main vocal was taken by percussionist and cavaco player Jeremy Shaverin, but from then on Mishka Adams did a terrific job in fronting the band, as well as taking on the vast bulk of the singing duties. She was able to invest the tunes with that typically South American mixture of joy and melancholy, adding a distinctively Brazilian glissando to the notes.

Another highlight of the first set was Yê Melê, a powerful driving chant that always sends a shiver down the backbone. The second half, however, saw the band really come into its own. Vento de Maio was a gorgeous waltz-time '60s melody made famous by Elis Regina (I couldn’t actually find a Mendes recording of it), and here Adams was at her very best.


Samba Azul with Joy Ellis (keyboards - right)

In Brasil 66, the vocal lines were generally taken by two women – originally Lani Hall with either Bibi Vogel or Janis Hansen – singing in unison. On the occasions where Adams was joined by pianist Joy Ellis, the effect was instantly more powerful, as well as sounding more authentic, and any repeat performances of the Mendes set would benefit from more of her vocal input.

Most of the solos were taken by guitarist Gregory Sanders-Gallego, although towards the end of the second set, Ellis had a wonderful piano outing on Casa Forte, with its rising wordless melody. All the way through, the tunes throbbed along thanks to the terrific pulse of electric bassman Greg Gottlieb, who plays his right-handed instrument upsidedown, whilst percussionist Alex Talbot combined brilliantly with Osmianski and Shaverin. A couple of ragged edges aside, this was a fine gig from a formidably talented outfit.

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