Ed Johnson & Novo Tempo,
(Cumulus, 2004)

Nothing says Brazilian music like ... Ed Johnson? You'd be excused for being a little skeptical, but the California-based artist and his seven-member ensemble Novo Tempo have produced a polished yet accessible blend of Brazilian and jazz music in Movimento.

The 10 tracks of the CD feature a variety of Brazilian rhythms -- baiao, samba, and bossa -- executed on jazzy saxophone, piano, bass and nylon-string guitar. Vocals in Portuguese, Spanish and English by Jennifer Scott and Ed Johnson round out the mix for a smooth, upbeat sound.

Movimento opens with the rapid piano chords of "Scotch Baiao," which are soon joined by Johnson and Scott's rhythmic scat vocals. However, it isn't until the titular second track, with its warm, laidback guitar and syncopated handclapping rhythms, that the CD really hits its stride.

Without being overly similar, the other tracks follow suit. Infectious percussion and tenor sax make the cheerful "O Bom Alvinho," a tribute to Hermeto Pascoal, one of the standouts. "Light's Return" is one of the most successful fusions between smooth, coffeehouse jazz and Brazilian sensibilities. "Tara," an urbane, sauntering jazz piece with little Brazilian about it, is the only piece that is audibly, though not jarringly, different in tone.

Though it never demands full attention, Movimento is nothing if not wholly listenable. Ed Johnson has a pleasant, unfussy voice with good range, and the lyrics, if occasionally banal in English ("We thank you for showing us / To follow the heart's path / To be grateful for what we have / And to always share a good laugh"), sound better in Portuguese. A few of the tracks like the repetitive "Exceto Nos" are less successful, but not to the point where the skip button becomes necessary.

Still, if nothing warrants the skip button, nothing is really worthy of the repeat button either. It's a nice soundtrack to a relaxing weekend afternoon, but little more. Enthusiasts of Brazilian and jazz music may find more to appreciate in this recording, but as competently executed and pleasant as it is, Movimento leaves me somewhat unmoved.

review by
Jennifer Mo

25 August 2007

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