When Angela Turone met Chris Platt at the University of Toronto several years ago, their musical chemistry was instant.
The vocalist and guitarist played a gig together in 2014 when they were still students in jazz studies, and they quickly bonded over a shared love and appreciation of Brazilian music.
This year, they released Sounds of Brazil, an album exploring the country’s beautiful music and how it intertwines with their jazz roots. Now streaming and available to buy on Bandcamp, the album features fresh arrangements of tunes by some of Brazil’s most esteemed composers and lyricists, including renowned bossa nova pioneer Antônio Carlos Jobim.
Rounding out their lineup are horn player Chase Sanborn, bassist Pat Collins, drummer Robin Claxton, cellist Andrew Downing, flautist and tenor saxophonist John Nicholson and percussionist Hélio Cunha.
Turone joined us to talk about the pair’s shared love of Brazilian music, and how they tried to put their own touch on their favourite songs while still remaining faithful to the originals.
What is it about Brazil and bossa nova that captivates you?
Oh my goodness, there are so many things about Brazilian music that are just so captivating and have really drawn Chris and me to pursue this music. There’s something unique about the way the music feels. In bossa nova and samba, there are so many layers of percussion and different parts of the music that click together and intertwine to create something really unique. And of course, there’s crossover between jazz and bossa nova. I mean, that’s really what bossa nova is: a blend of samba and jazz. What’s produced is so unique and beautiful, and the repertoire is just so captivating.
When you’re listening to this album, it really does feel like you’re in specific areas. One sounds like you’re at a dance bar, and another sounds like you’re at the beach. Do you have those images in your head when you’re making this music?
I agree with you. I would say that each piece has its own sound, feeling or, for lack of a better word, vibe. During our process, Chris and I would take a composition and try to do the composers and lyricists justice and preserve the integrity of how that piece feels and sounds. But of course, we tried to perhaps create something new and that feels a little different, while always keeping that integrity and hopefully doing them justice.
Is that a difficult line to walk, when you’re arranging music like this, between keeping it familiar enough that we can recognize it but still making it your own?
Absolutely. When you’re composing original music, it’s inevitable that although the music will be influenced by preexisting genres, it’s going to be something new that the listener hasn’t heard before. But there is a challenge in preserving the original intention [of a piece] while also doing something new and creative that’s engaging for listeners — something that doesn’t feel like the same old thing you’ve heard multiple times. That was definitely our goal: to do something that felt unique and honest to our sensibilities.
You two have been playing together for quite a while now. When you first got together and realized that you both had this love for Brazilian music, do you remember a time when you thought yes, this is going to work?
Chris and I met when we were wrapping up our studies in the University of Toronto jazz program. We were put on a gig together sort of by chance, and afterwards we were talking — it was the first time we met — and it was amazing, we just had so much in common musically. We were nerding out over how much we loved [Brazilian] music, and there was a click there. I think I knew right away … Having all of that love and passion for the music we had in common was so key. But each of us also brought something new to the table. Chris was listening to artists and repertoire that I had never heard. So it was a really special thing. That’s how this started: listening to songs we both loved, bringing them into rehearsals together, and just trying to delve deeper into the music. We’re still doing that to this day.
On this album, you bring in a lot of other artists as well. Was this something you had talked about wanting to do, or did the music naturally lead you in that direction?
When we began playing together back in 2014, we did begin as a duo. Each year we booked a month-long residency at the Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Club. The first residency was just Chris and me together, and each year we added someone else to the band … The whole dynamic of the band completely shifted … [and] we knew we wanted to arrange for a larger ensemble and explore different sounds and textures.
Is there anything in particular that makes you feel really proud about this album, or that you think is really special?
I feel really proud of the work and development we’ve put in over the last several years. Our project started off as two fairly young players who were recently graduating from school and were just getting together because of this love of music and culture, and over the last few years it’s grown into something that’s become part of our musical identity. I feel really proud of it because although it’s not original music, each arrangement is a collaboration between Chris and me. It’s not that the album was perfectly divided up. Each of us took the lead with certain pieces, but our process has been so collaborative, so listening to the album sounds like our stamp is on these songs. I love that it’s a combination of the two of us. It’s not that one song is completely mine or his, and I’m happy with that. It gives the album a unified sound. As cheesy or clichéd as it may be, two heads are better than one. I think it’s cool that we have two perspectives and two personalities that have been stamped onto these songs.