TILL BRONNER / “Mysterios”
I was to meet a person at the fountain: “you won’t miss it.” Munich, 1998. I got there early and had time to look around the plaza. I was shocked when I saw the sign “Werlien’s Fur Musik.” I knew that sign from downtown New Orleans where our city’s most famous music store advertised “Werlien’s For Music.” Immediately I thought of the other German-named stores that populated the Crescent City’s famed Canal Street, our main downtown thoroughfare, the widest street in America: Mark Isaac, Rubenstein Bros., Krauss. What was this?
I knew from my independent history studies that Germans played a major part in the development not only of New Orleans and in the movement from the advancement of African Americans, but specifically in the early years of jazz. Hell, the sousaphone, that portable bass horn most people simply call a tuba is still a mainstay of secondline bands. Indeed, there is a strong, strong German brass instrument influence coursing through the early days of Big Easy jazz, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that a plaza in downtown Munich would remind me of the main street in downtown New Orleans.
But you know it’s one thing to intellectually “know” reality and another thing entirely to experience reality. I already had the knowledge, it was the experience that shocked me.
Fast forward. Yall know I dig afro-German vocalist Joy Denalane. Saw Till Bronner’s name on a playbill for a tour she did but didn’t investigate the trumpeter. Eventually, I got to him by a circuitous route: a recent Mark Murphy recording (which, it turns out, Bronner produced in Germany) is what hooked me.
And now here’s Teutonic Till Bronner’s latest release, Rio, on which he presents… well, if I had to label it, I would call it a smooth jazz interpretation of Brazilian music, except Rio’s way too good to put that simple(-ass) label on this musical confection that subtly mixes cool jazz with contemporary Brazilian (sort of like what happened with bossa nova once Stan Getz and Tom Jobim influenced each other).
I believe there’s a special circle of hell for smooth jazz—but I’m not a Christian and I don’t really believe in heaven and hell, and in a similar way, what I hate about smooth jazz has nothing to do with the label and everything to do with the pap that’s passed off for jazz under that label but the truth is ever since the ascendancy of Nat King Cole there has been smooth jazz.
And don’t mention “cool” jazz, legendarily birthed by Miles Davis but actually fathered by Lester Young (and not by Paul Whiteman, the contemporary of early Ellington. Whiteman’s promoters had the audacity to label the rotund bandleader “the king of jazz.”) And that mini-reflection brings us to jazz trumpeter, vocalist and romantic icon Chet Baker, a fifties paragon of cool jazz, which in turn leads us directly to Till Bronner, who acknowledges Chet’s influence (as well as the influence of Miles Davis)—Bronner made a 2000 album called, you ready for this?, Chattin with Chet. So anyway, I was totally predisposed not to give a care.
It didn’t matter to me that Till Bronner was the most commercially successful German jazz musician ever, or that he had, to use a cliché, “rock star status” over there. Music is what matters, not popular perception.
If music is what matters, then I’ve got to dap up Till Bronner. His technical abilities as a trumpeter are limited but his imagination (and that’s what counts far more than technique) is way out there. I’ll return to an overview of Bronner’s music at another time, right now I want to concentrate on his interretations of Brazil.
I dig Brazilian music. I love Milton Nascimento. When I heard Rio, I became a Bronner fan. Listen. Listen to the unlikely mix of Annie Lennox and Milton Nascimento as lead vocalists on “Mysterios,” a Nascimento composition, and Bronner's breathy trumpet sound that stops attractively short of sloppy (think of the feeling he evokes as a French kiss). Listen to his vocally narrow yet compellingly innocent air on “Café Com Pao”).
I also like how Bronner’s urges on his compatriots. On “Sim Ou Nao,” vocalist Kurt Elling achieves near mastery and Luciana Souza is not too far behind Elling on “Aquelas Coisas Todas.” Yes, I know that Elling is channeling Ivan Lins’ style but listen to how Elling use of breath mirrors Bronner’s trumpet tone; this is not happenstance. And that Luciana, who is noted for her mid-to-slow interpretations, floats effortlessly above a dancing rhythm, is another indication that these arrangements were admirably thought through and executed.
I still hate smooth jazz but I’m sure you won’t mind joining me in saluting this elegant offering of radio-friendly interpretations of Brazilian music by a young, German master of contemporary jazz.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
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