Nico Gomez
Fiesta Brasiliana






Don’t let the somewhat bland album title fool you: Fiesta Brasiliana by Belgian conductor and composer Nico Gomez is on par with his better known aural topaz Ritual (1971) which is also released on Omega Records. It offers another large dose of 14 Latin compositions, all of them fully orchestrated, strikingly exotic, augmented by a mixed choir, decidedly cheerful and green-tinted as well as nurtured by serpentine percussion rhizomes full of bongos, congas, cowbells, guiros and kettle drums. While the choir sings the Portuguese lyrics of the multitudinous Salsa, Merengue and Bossa Nova incarnations in a playful way, the Latin level is still outshone by the luminosity of Exotica.


The feeling of being in a jungle is always maintained. No symphonic strings are to be found on the album. Instead, brass totems are erected, and these are fluffy, warm and mellow rather than jumpy, incisive or piercing, all three of which are commonly accepted styles in lovestoned Latin pieces of devotion and lust. In this regard though, Nico Gomez rightfully stresses the fiesta part and prefers a feeling of camaraderie and togetherness; romantic meetups and, er, private dancing lessons are amiss here. The remaining ingredients that bring the rain forest to life are good old pianos, organ jitters, Pagan alto flutes and wooden-moist xylophones. The release date of 1971 makes Fiesta Brasiliana an all too late entry into the Exotica genre, if at all, and lacks the Funk and sleaziness of Ritual, but is nevertheless able to enchant with its convivial mélange of controlled savage behaviors. Here is a closer look at the album’s characteristic traits.


Nico Gomez does not waste any precious time, seven tracks have to fit on side A, and so the splendid opener and rendition of Morton Gould’s famous Tropical (off his 1957 album and early symphonic Exotica artifact Jungle Drums) opens with a gorgeous mélange of kettle drums which immediately lead to a bongo-accentuated choir-fueled organorama where said mixed choir hums the main melody which is also wonderfully fueled by euphonious brass glitz and Pagan flutes. The Samba overtones and uplifting tempo make this one of the best versions of Tropical I have witnessed thus far. Nico Gomez’s own Que Sabor moves ever-deeper to the Brazilian spirit and features a smarmy male choir over a bongo and conga shrubbery, sprinkling pianos and benign brass paroxysms. The chattering is amicable and joyous, but the actual feat of this tune is the hollowness, the possibility for the bongo reverb to create plasticity and a sense of room. Samba Do Perroquet, a tune concocted by Lalo Schifrin and based on a maraca-interpolated acoustic guitar placenta whose sunlit dryness faces a contravention in the shape of tones in minor, a duet of a lovestoned couple and drowsy flute tones. Shady and partially lamenting, this designedly dun Samba is a prime example of Latinized Exotica.


Alberto Beltran’s El Negrito Del Batey follows, an uplifting staccato shrapnel panorama loaded with Honky Tonk piano chords, woodpecking xylophones, warbled flute cacophonies and vesiculating bongo bubbles. Tipsy and celebratory in parts due to the “hey” chants, El Negrito Del Batey is a technicolor hymn of glee and life-affirming gatherings. The traditional Mulher Rendeira then opens the instrumental pool by featuring a prominent accordion which almost makes this somnolent-silkened midtempo interpretation a sea shanty, were it not for the drowsy and prolonged “olé” chants. Whenever such chants appear, histrionicism is not far away, but here everything feels comfortable and positively tiring. It is midday near the Amazon.


Exactly the right time for El Bimbi to crash into the soothingness. Envisioned by Gomez himself, it puts the mixed choir into the limelight which is girdled by the great textures of the bongos. Joyful cheers, screeching flutes and piano spirals round off the feeling of Braziliana. Luís Alberti’s Compadre Pedro Juan then finishes side A with pointillistic xylophone dots, large-grained maracas, churning guiros and clinging cowbells next to the expected but still utterly welcome bongo shrubbery. Gaseous piano tones, warmhearted brass infusions and falsetto trumpets create a dense thicket of exhilaration.


Side B opens with Nico Gomez’s Nena Negrita, a short fleeting visit to his famous LP Ritual due to its sophisticated beat pattern anacrusis which then leads to sun-dappled piano helixes, brass injections and ligneous-moist xylophone globs. Juanchin Ramirez’s and Tito Rodriguez’s Asi, Asi is then interpreted in an eminently warmhearted fashion. Everything is hot and tropical but strongly mellow, there are no particularly fiery brass bursts in this piece. It is as if one gazed onto the scenery from afar, securing a contemplative state. The cheeky male choir provides a comic relief par excellence, one which is decidedly amiss in the traditional De Lanterna Na Mão, the most lamenting and shadowy tune of the whole album. Sanguine sunset brass runlets and devoted singers create a Malagueña-like melodrama. It is this very temper Latin fans love so much, but it seems a tad too serious in the LP’s endemic context.


While La Playa is Nico Gomez’s fraternity nod to his fellow Belgian Jo van Wetter – of the successful Belgian combo The Waikikis – and proves to be the slowest tune whose bongo beat schleps itself along in adjacency to piano prongs that are slow as molasses and dusky horns whose majestic colors expand only in the latter half where the tune changes into an ode to insouciance, it is the traditional follow-up Poco Pelo which provides a superb Bossa Nova carefreeness with a joyful choir, hollower than hollow bongo patterns, raspy guiro riverbeds and a catchiness par excellence, making Poco Pelo one of the best songs off the album which also surprises with a final segue where the percussion is even revved up and accelerated. Raúl Saladem’s Quiero Amenecer then boosts the tempo once more, worshipping cheerful vocals and echoing choirs in-between a coppice of reeds and brass, with the traditional tune Vivo Cantando being the downbeat finale and highly melancholic as well as mountainous siesta song, at least during its initial stage where ealsticized rubicund horns traverse by. The second part then features xylophone flecks, augmented bongo patterns and jocular piano gyrations. A worthy closer which displays the polyhedron physiognomy of the album.


Something is different. Luckily so. Nico Gomez’s Fiesta Brasiliana screams the nature of its innermost core at the listener via the title, but since title is less than optimal in describing the vivacious variety and skillful instrumentation of the vocal-heavy tracks, Exotica aficionados might skip over this artifact. Sure, Gomez’s album Ritual had the better title which promised many a dangerous situation and savage encounter. By contrast, Fiesta Brasiliana sounds all too tame and flamboyant. A big mistake! It is true that many Latinisms are on board here as well, especially so the murky piano chords and lamenting brass sections which waft in downbeat critters such as Samba Do Perroquet, De Lanterna Na Mão or the closer Vivo Cantando, but the majority of the 14 arrangements is gorgeously texturized, unleashes enormous amounts of joy and densely layered percussion thickets. It is these very thickets that shine so luminescently; emanating auras of verdure and tropical greenery, the bongos, congas, cowbells, guiros and kettle drums provide a sophisticated backdrop spine for the brass sections and flutes to shine.


The horns are rarely ever charged with clichés and are surprisingly free of any kitsch. Nico Gomez and his choir know how to tansform the Latin standards into something different. Sure, the Portuguese lyrics, the Samba rhythms and Bossa Nova constructions make this a clear cut Latin album, but again, there is a loftiness and jungular incandescence that is amiss in – otherwise splendidly orchestrated – albums by big names such as Xavier Cugat or orchestras conducted by Barney Kessel. The usual boon of the choir is also applicable here: once a group of singers is involved, the material is usually very catchy. Rest assured that this is the case here, too. Fiesta Brasiliana is only available on vinyl at the time of writing. Needless to say that I approve of a digital release!


Exotica Review 297: Nico Gomez – Fiesta Brasiliana (1971). Originally published on Dec. 21, 2013 at