Look To the Sky explores gems from Brazil’s MPB heyday in the late ‘60s played in an open, improvisational spirit.
In the years since the release of its debut Blue Night in 2013, Philadelphia-based Ensemble Novo has refined a sound that’s perfectly suited to its primary inspiration – music made in Brazil during the 1960s and early 70s.
It’s a sound built on contrasts – the crystalline clarity of the vibraphone crossed with the husky introspection of tenor saxophone, the warmth of nylon string guitar woven into the crisp pulse of samba percussion. As is true of so much from Brazil, this is music that encourages (and sometimes demands) dancing, but is equally suited to contemplative listening.
Look To the Sky, which was recorded live at Rittenhouse Soundworks over several days in May 2016, finds Ensemble Novo tackling several little-heard gems from the years just after the bossa nova craze – the fertile era known as MPB. Among them: The Antonio Carlos Jobim/Edu Lobo collaboration “Vento Bravo,” Egberto Gismonti’s first “hit” song, “O Sonho,” and the Milton Nascimento classic from Club de Esquina, “Cravo e Canela.” This period in Brazilian music is notable for its endlessly lyrical melodies, coupled with a jazz-influenced sense of harmonic daring. Ensemble Novo not only celebrates these qualities – it has rapidly evolved into a unit that transforms them – into gorgeous, richly interactive and endlessly surprising creations.
Ensemble Novo is the brainchild of writer and musician Tom Moon, who plays tenor saxophone and flute and is the composer of the brooding “Columbia Waltz” on Look to the Sky. Following the publication of his New York Times bestseller 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, Moon resumed active work as a musician and devoted specific attention to Brazilian music. He convinced several prominent members of Philadelphia’s diverse music community – vibraphonist Behn Gillece, guitarist Ryan McNeely, percussionist Jim Hamilton, bassist Mark Przybylowski – to join in an exploration of samba, bossa nova and MPB. Through a monthly residency at Philadelphia’s popular whiskey bar, Time, that’s been going for over three years, the group has developed a loyal following of listeners and dancers, and has performed at Longwood Gardens, Spruce Street Harbor Park, the Barnes Foundation, World Cafe Live, Heritage and many other venues.
Look to the Sky is the first of 2 mini albums that Ensemble Novo will release in 2017. The other, Who Saw You Then, Who Sees You Now, will be available in the summertime.