Amaro Freitas

What drives Amaro Freitas in life is experience. In 2020 the pianist, who hails from the Northeastern Brazilian coastal city of Recife, was drawn to Manaus, located in the Amazon basin, some 4600 kilometers to the west. His experience in that lush wilderness led him into a new realm of musical creation, one rooted in magic and possibility and tempered by a sense of stewardship for the earth's bounties and a connection to the Sateré Mawé indigenous community. Crucial to the experience for Freitas was the maintenance of a true exchange of knowledge. According to Freitas, in the resulting album, Y'Y (pronounced: eey-eh, eey-eh), he pays "homage to the forest, especially the Amazon Forest, and the rivers of Northern Brazil: a call to live, feel, respect, and care for nature, recognizing it as our ancestor."

He continues, "It is also a warning about the need to be aware of the impact we cause, based on the concepts of civilization and modernity that keep us away from this connection, and its importance for the balance of life on the planet." In addition to serving as a call to nature, Y'Y expresses lessons Freitas learned in the Amazon about the incandescent power of enchanted spirits who intervene on behalf of the community in times of struggle.

Tracks such as "Mapinguari (Encantado da Mata)," and "Uiara (Encantada da Agua) — Life and Cure" recount the legends of powerful spirits, including the tale of the Mapinguari, "a hungry, hairy giant with one eye and a huge mouth at his navel, [that] wanders through the forest in search of food" according to Freitas. The song incorporates the rumbling, ominous sound of the thunder drum. Meanwhile "Uiara" is described by Freitas as another name for the pink river dolphin. The word itself means "the lady of the waters" or "water mother" in Tupi-Guarani.

Although building an album around an experience so far from his Recife home may seem out of character, in fact the work is fundamentally connected to his previous discography. "Trying to rescue things that came before coloniality," he notes, is a theme that has been woven into Freitas's work for years. By simply looking at the titles of his last three projects: Rasif (a colloquial spelling of Freitas's hometown), Sankofa (a Ghanaian term which roughly translates to "using lessons from the past while moving forward"), and now Y'Y (a word from the Sateré Mawé dialect, an ancestral indigenous code that means water or river), you can see themes that are not spoken in Portuguese or English, but which are part of the construction of a much more connected social concept. It's no wonder he chose to intwine ancestral knowledge into this project in such a meaningful way.

On the title track, "Y'Y," which features Shabaka Hutchings on flute in a duo, they try to "translate the ancestral strength of the meeting of these waters into two opposing movements," he notes, and in each, echo-laden vocalizations ring out like ancient chants.

Meanwhile, "Mar de Cirandeiras" is a tribute to the cirandeiras, "a living cultural heritage of his home state of Pernambuco." The ciranda is a traditional dance featuring people who clasp hands and move in a circle. He calls the song an "impression of experiencing a ciranda on the beach, in Tamaracá, in Recife Antigo, but not necessarily playing the ciranda rhythm. And it pays homage to the sea and, in a way, brings a connection where everyone is equal in that ciranda. I also think that the harmony [bears] a connection with John Coltrane's music," while centering an unconventional harmonic structure. On this soulful track, joined by guitarist Jeff Parker, Freitas sings and plays a warm-toned Fender Rhodes piano, as well as an acoustic piano. The song simply glows like the sun on the sea.

Parker noted that he first heard Freitas "in Ireland at the Cork Jazz Festival in October of 2021, where we were both performing. He was playing with his trio and I was struck by the complex rhythms and harmonies that he was playing. He was playing in two different meters, a different one in each hand." He went on to say, "I was flattered to be asked to record a track on his album. The melody for 'Mar de Cirandeiras' is so beautiful to play and it was easy to find a nice blend with his piano sounds. I really love the ethereal middle section with the major 7th chords moving in major thirds."

For "Gloriosa" Freitas is joined by harpist Brandee Younger, and yet another enchantment is mined. On this recording, Freitas honors his mother, Rosilda, who has inspired him musically since childhood. "'Encantados' celebrates the African diaspora and reinforces how traditions are part of our DNA, whether in the way we play and connect with our roots, or how we understand sound as a powerful ancestor," says the artist of the album's final song. The track features the iconic drummer Hamid Drake, Hutchings on flute, and Aniel Someillan on acoustic bass. Referencing the idea of enchantment while invoking enchanted beings "was something very important in this process," and rather than attaching any one specific meaning to the work as a whole, Freitas ultimately wants listeners "to feel touched by the spirits, the enchanted spirits of the forest."

While Side A of Y'Y serves as an expression of connection to the earth and to the ancestors, Side B serves as proof of connections between the global Black avant-jazz community. Shabaka Hutchings hails from the rich scene in London, harpist Brandee Younger comes from the legendary New York City jazz scene, bassist Aniel Someillan is of Cuban descent, while guitarist Jeff Parker and drummer Hamid Drake come from the deep well of avant garde jazz in Chicago. This album is an artful conversation between those traditions, rooted in the unique sounds and rituals found in Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous cultures. With Y'Y, Freitas further codifies his fresh, "decolonized" interpretation of Brazilian jazz, one that may well shatter preconceived notions of what jazz can be.

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Tue 8.6
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