Some twenty years ago, Scott Feiner plied his trade as a highly regarded jazz guitarist in his native New York City. It was a vocation that he worked toward since fifteen years old, even learning jazz history from one of its history makers, Jackie McLean. But a 1999 trip to Brazil changed his life when he discovered the pandeiro, a kind of hand drum. A couple of years later he was living in Rio de Janeiro and in short order became very proficient in this Brazilian percussion instrument. But Feiner never abandoned jazz and he wasn’t going to abandon his new love, the pandeiro, either, so…
Welcome to the previously uncharted world of pandeiro jazz.
As the first pandeiro player to use it entirely within a jazz context, Feiner has had the entire range of options before him as to how to execute on this novel idea, and over the course of his first three albums beginning with 2006’s Pandeiro Jazz, he surrounded his unconventional instrument with conventional jazz surroundings, garnering accolades along the way.
His 4th album A View From Below (March 25, 2014) suggests that Feiner isn’t near done exploring the possibilities presented by inserting his Brazilian percussion instrument into an American music form. This time, he stripped down the ensemble to just a trio, with only electric guitarist Guilherme Monteiro and Rafael Vernet (Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer) alongside him. That’s right, he’s going more electric and there’s no bass, but between the low notes from Vernet’s keyboard and the kick-drum sounds Feiner wrings from his pandeiro, the leader determined — accurately — that he already had everything he needed. Since he can also simultaneously make tambourine and conga sounds from this small instrument, it often sounds like a five or six piece band instead of a threesome.
In recruiting two, highly-regarded Brazilian musicians, you’d assume that this is a set of Brazilian music, but this is another area where Feiner is thinking even further outside of the box this time. Writing 100% of the album’s material for the first time, Brazilian styles are only evident for two of these nine songs, “O Forno” and “Fonte.” The rest of the fare delves into American forms like rock, funk (“Raizes” delves into both), and of course jazz, often all stirred-in together. And in spite of alternating and atypical time signatures (“A View From Below,” “Sienna,” “The Visitor”), the songs are easily embraceable because Feiner has a taste for bright melodies. Even where there are no traces of Rio, the light, bouncy and yet complex sounds of Return To Forever, Mk. I, often come to mind.
Vernet and Monteiro are both fine improvisers, but they also work well together, weaving together complementing harmonic lines that illuminate Feiner’s choruses, like on the feel-good jazz-pop number “Jasmine.” Vernet’s chops are evident right from “View” on, and Monteiro’s versatility allows him to reel off fluid bop lines during “O Forno” and sharp-edged rock tones for “The Visitor.”
“Pandeiro jazz” might be a pretty new musical concept, but it feels anything but foreign. Scott Feiner successfully transfers this concept into electric fusion in producing a breezy concoction that goes down as easy as rum punch, and is just as intoxicating.