Mike Marshall's 14 tracks of fiery mandolin playing juxtaposed against instrumentalists of equal chops -- Béla Fleck on banjo; Edgar Meyer on bass; Andy Narell on piano; Kaila Flexer on violin; Michael Manring on electric bass; Jovino Santos Neto on piano; Andy Connell on saxophone; and Jackie Rago on cuatro -- were first released in 1996. They have been in high demand ever since. Completely remastered and adding two bonus tracks, Brazil Duets reborn is a perfectly polished diamond whose every facet shows us a different but equally flawless take on Brazilian choros.
Mano-i-mano, we get a slightly Baroque reading of "Fla-Flu" with Edgar Meyer's counterpoint and highly energetic Jazz/ Caribbean piano backing by Andy Narell on four tracks. "El Diablo Suelto" introduces a Venezuelan element compliments of cuatro virtuoso Jackie Rago whose residence in the San Francisco Bay area made him accessible to Marshall. "Naquele Tempo" has Hermeto Pascoal protégé Santos Neto rework a Pixinguinha ballad in contemporary Jazz harmonies while the following "Indifference" joins banjo and mandolin in a 6/8 French musette taken way outside by Béla Fleck's omnivorous musical appetites.
"Um Chorinho em Aldeia" is a piano/mandolin transcription of a piece Raphael Rabello recorded with clarinetist Paulo Moura. It's Marshall honoring Brazil's 1995 loss of Rabello, one of its finest guitarists. "De Coração a Coração" gets seriously funky, with Marshall switching to twangy guitar to interface with Flexer on violin for a tune the two heard in 1995 by Evandro do Bandolim. They spent the next day in the city trying to scare up the sheet music for it before heading for the airport - an excellent effort.
"Gostosinho | Tasty" mates up Mike Marshall with his former band mate Michael Manring of the group Montreux. Manring's trademark two-handed tapping technique evokes "an entire Brazilian batucada rhythm section" as the liner notes describe it - and does it ever. "Karaté" is the only threesome on Duets, adding Béla Fleck's banjo and Andy Connell's sax to a very fleet-finger'd, silvery key'd romp while "Paz e Alegria no Lar" allows Santos Neto on an M-1 synthesizer to develop some very romantic effects to an unusually dreamy Hermeto Pascoal ballad. The new bonus closer ties the circle by repeating the opener "Um a Zero", inserting Edgar Meyer's bass instead of Andy Narell's piano into the number. Hot damn!
Brazil Duets does for the choro what Hot Swing by Mark O'Connor, Jon Burr and Frank Vignola [Omac Records - 4] did for present-day American-style Reinhardt/Grappelli swing. Where Duets goes beyond is in the teeming variety of the constantly alternating duet/dueling partners. Extreme virtuosity, first-rate tunes, applied creativity outside the box - this album is a must-own for all lovers of contemporary Brazilian instrumental music. It's a landmark recording that captures a particular slice and style and offers it up in as many distinctive flavors as possible.