Playlist: Nana, The Incredible
Tiny slivers of inspiration from Nana Vasconcelos, the stealth genius of percussion
This could have easily been a six-hour playlist — and even then it wouldn’t hit the same groove or pattern twice.
That’s because Nana Vasconcelos, the Brazilian master of texture in tempo, had the knack for enlivening cruise-control rhythms using just strategic single strikes and almost imperceptible improvisatory expansions. His time was coloristic, a mutating dance of shades and hues. His samba was animated by the unseen hands of hallucionating orishas.
Before he died in 2016, Vasconcelos played with preeminent improvisors (Don Cherry, Chico Freeman) and legendary singers (Milton Nascimento, Joyce) and composers with fresh ideas about melodic development (Pat Metheny, Jan Garbarek). When the music needed pulse, Vasconcelos set it in motion in the most economical way possible. He understood how to propel a band without overpowering it. Everything he plays feels serene, low-key celebratory. And everything moves with purpose: Where some rhythm players “dig in” to convey intention, Vasconcelos lets go. He navigates epic journeys like he’s flying a kite.
Some musicians do a thing and then lock into that forever. Vasconcelos did the opposite: He took the sounds and patterns he heard growing up in Pernambuco, a hotbed of creativity in the Northeast part of Brazil, and mutated them to fit all kinds of situations. And then kept going. His own records are boldly creative and also plainly gorgeous; his contributions to the incandescent trio Codona (with Don Cherry and Colin Wolcott) and other chamber groups show what can happen when musicians arrive at a session with no preconceptions — just the intention to cultivate a bandwidth for spontaneous communication.
This playlist attempts to show that Vasconcelos brought that approach over and over, to countless sessions as leader, collaborator and hired-gun sideman. It opens with an enchanting track from a 1976 recording with Joyce that inexplicably wasn’t released until 2009 (the entire LP, Visions of Dawn, is great); other historical beacons include a short piece from a very early (1971) collaboration with guitarist Agustin Pereyra Lucena and a tune called “Ganesh” from the 1972 Don Cherry’s New Researches, a live date that shows the beginnings of the long and frighteningly intuitive collaboration between Vasconcelos and Cherry.
Thanks for reading EchoLocator! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.