World & Latin

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Steel Belted Latin

12 SEP 08 JOHN C. BRUENING

Earlier this year, Brazilian drummer Portinho assembled a small crew of players at the Manchester Crafstmen's Guild studios in the less-than-exotic locale of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The result is Vinho Do Porto, an 11-track set whose exotic, cosmopolitan sensibilities belie its steel-town genesis.

Portinho has played with some of the most prominent figures in Latin jazz -- Tania Marie, Gato Barbierie, Paquito D'Rivera and many others. On this latest release, his group is billed as a trio, although the total head count actually comes to five. On hand are pianist Klaus Mueller and bassists Lincoln Goines and Itaiguara Brandão, along with special guest trombonist/percussionist Jay Ashby.

As might be expected when musicians from either side of the Equator convene, the resulting music takes on a decidedly cross-cultural flavor, blending elements of the Brazilian and New York jazz scenes in particular. On one hand are the well known standards like Johnny Mercer's "Satin Doll" (slightly salsa-fied here, yet still respectful of the source material) and Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" (full of smoldering energy). On the other, a freewheeling rendition of D'Rivera's "Who's Smokin'?" and the "Homage To Tom," a quiet and gentle medley of three pieces by Antonio Carlos Jobim ("Secedeu Assim," "Só Saudade" and "Angela").

Through it all, the music is alternately comfortable and energized in all the right places, and never pretentious or forced. The simple yet satisfying truth to be found in Vinho Do Porto -- a set recorded in one of the more northern parts of North America -- is that Latin music has very little to do with geographic location and everything to do with emotion and groove.