Tamba Trio






Tempo is a particularly synergetic work and the third studio album by the Brazilian band Tamba Trio, released in 1964 on the Philips label and cross-licensed to Companhia Brasileira De Discos. When I present synergetic works, they are most often partially exotic – they better be! –, but not really in the spotlight of an Exotica aficionado’s attention. This time, I beg to differ, as the core of Tempo is mightily exotic. Nine of its twelve tracks are interpretations of classic and less known Brazilian compositions, with three additional compositions being written by the band itself. The Tamba Trio’s personnel comprises of pianist and arranger Luiz Eça (1936–1992), multi-instrumentalist Bebeto Castilho (born 1939) who plays the tenor saxophone, flute and even double bass, with percussionist and drummer Hélcio Milito (born 1931) altering the twilight scope with his plinking timbales, triangles and hi-hats, although there is a small string orchestra on board as well. The magic word is indeed twilight.


Similar to Bianchi & The Jungle-Sextet and their one-album affair Music To Play In The Dark (1959), the Tamba Trio lets a splendidly harmonious core clash with salted Honky Tonk bar moments and formations of joyous danger. But no worry, the material is playful for one very specific reason: the gentlemen’s vocals! Whether they are dedicatedly smarmy, gyrate between onomatopoeia and echopraxia or lift off in unexpected ways, their kind of singing and chanting and bopping is so unlike other Latin albums that these instances let all of the Tamba Trio’s albums tower above more classical Latin pieces, whatever that means to each listener. There is only one instance of a decidedly oily performance, but this is done on purpose and in order to serve the romantic mood. Read more about an album which only has one huge problem to face: its self-imposed title.


When I write about sun-dappled guitars, I think others understand what I mean, or at least have a rough idea. The reader knows that I cannot possibly refer to Doom Metal fusillades, for instance. The Tamba Trio’s interpretation of Eduardo Lobo’s Borandá, however, opens the disc with a new perspective: not only is the guitar well-lit, it is also wonderfully dreamy and hammock-compatible. It offers the right backdrop for… a complete shift! The trio is up for a playfully nasty polyphony, Luiz Eça’s piano oscillates between rubicund colors and aqueous spirals, Hélcio Milito’s timbales and cymbals plink and glint, with Bebeto Castilho’s double bass bolstering the suddenly sunset-colored diorama. A superb twilight touch of the things to come.


And things come in the gestalt of Durval Ferreira’s and Mauricio Einhorn’s Nuvens which first feigns a classic piano arrangement before being augmented by evening strings, timbale driblets and that kind of non-kitschy sumptuous romance, before Se Eu Pudesse Voltar by Luiz Bonfá and Maria Helena Toledo mercilessly amplifies the use of warped strings, blotchily silkened piano pings and a withdrawn but mellow solo vocal performance by Bebeto Castilho. The magenta-colored haze is only slightly altered by the flashing bolts of the equally veiled timbales.


The band’s very own Barumba is next, and its title already suggests a feistier, more vivid approach. And indeed, the trio goes back to the shadow theater of the opener, surprising with Space-Age barumba choruses, wordless ooooh’s and aaah’s, a staccato Honky Tonk goodness as well as a whole crystal cavern of triangles and hi-hats that is rounded off by Bebeto Castilho’s exotic flute airflow. While Carlos Diegues and Sérgio Ricardo’s Pregão offers a magnificent dreamscape and bird’s eye view over oceans, mountains and rain forests via euphonious piano undercurrents, almost New Age-evoking chants and Bebeto’s first use of his tenor saxophone, the band closes side A with another unique wonderwall called Danielle whose insouciant temper is realized with fluffy flute flumes, golden-shimmering pianos and a great interplay between the musicians which make this the proto-Exotica tune of side A: carefree, laid-back and breezy.


Side B opens with an Exotica classic, Baden Powell’s and Vinicius De MoraesBerimbau, and the Tamba Trio uses the well-known structures to their own advantage, (en)chanting to the max via stacked vocal layers, super-blissful piano segues and a reduced yet noticeable percussion section which transmutes the quasi-monastery in the right moments. A fantastic interpretation and a wonderful counterpoint to the instrumental takes à la Stanley Black. Another tune by de Moraes follows, one which he co-wrote with Antonio Carlos Jobim: O Amor Em Paz is a shapeshifting brute and as progressive as can be, showcasing the band’s skills from its pre-Drum’n Bass timbale frenzy over the string-infested harp-like piano glissando to its sweetly shuffling fur-coated mélange of glorious efflorescence.


Whereas Roberto Menescal’s and Ronaldo Bôscoli’s Morte De Um Deus De Sal is a spooky story in 3/4 time envisioned by crazily elasticized and hauntingly bent vocal performances which are themselves framed by a nocturnal base of dead-serious and delightful piano passages, the band then goes on to present their third and last unique tune, the uplifting but still dubious Yansã with its metropolitan piano billows and jungular flute counterparts. Once the timbales come into play, the mood shuttles between proto-Funk without electric guitars and a retrogressive look at the traditions of Brazilian music. A eupeptic cocktail.


The third time is also the charm for Vinicius de Moraes who is considered yet another time on this album: Consolação which he co-wrote with Baden Powell is presented in two rhythms, first bursting at the seams with fast-paced vocals, oompah piano allusions and hectic drums before a slower phase is reached and then revved up again. The final call is an instrumental interpretation of Moto Contínuo by Radamés Gnatalli, a fitting conclusion that evokes that the band continues to fire on all cylinders, or so it seems. In fact, Moto Contínuo is an Arabian Third Stream critter with warbled flutes, off-key piano keys, a certain tension as evoked by the double bass and the orderly drum patterns. This is the greatest achievement of the album arrangement-wise, going into a completely different and unexpected direction. It is by no means embracing the listener, but rather exists in a sphere of its own and could be something that Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica could have created, albeit decades later.


Tempo is the wrong title for the right work, but everything else fits perfectly. Even though the Tamba Trio somewhat betrays the listener and promises him or her a supreme tachycardia and beefy drum escapade, I can look over this kind of ploy and bask in the exoticism this LP has to offer. There are moments of increased tempo as well as rhythm-related alterations, for example in O Amor Em Paz or Consolação, but still, Tempo remains a slow ride in contrast to Lalo Schifrin‘s similarly Latin themed Bossa Nova (1962). And now, once and for all, let us forget about the title and focus on the soundscapes, for they are beautiful and awash with colors on the one hand, true, but the key to the album’s success is the shadier interstices on the other hand. These do not materialize via truly mean-spirited cinematics or a blasting saxophone; a certain rusticity and saltatory scythes are favored instead. This kind of timbre is exactly what makes polished Funk music so luring, especially in its infancy stages when it broke through many a genre or alloy, Exotica included.


The Tamba Trio does not drop a single electric guitar or electric piano, but the tonality of the classic piano resembles concrete jungles and molten asphalt more often than not, accidentally and unintentionally hinting at Bronx memories during Summer, sundown strolls through industrial parks and even various movie scenes that guide one’s perception for better or worse. It is this interstice of darkness and light, faux-Funk and genuine Exotica which makes Tempo so enjoyable, although this is but one column. The second important cornerstone is the guys’ vocals whose polyphony and spacy shifts and transformations have to be heard to be believed (Barumba). The album has finally been reissued on CD, and while there is no download version available as of yet, the silver disc is the goal to aim for and worth every dime and penny.


Exotica Review 338: Tamba Trio – Tempo (1964). Originally published on May 3, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.