Bud Shank, Clare Fischer & Joe Pass





is a Latin Exotica album of ten tracks that altogether contain a particularly gleeful and carefree timbre. It is played and envisioned by a septet led by tenor saxophonist and flutist Bud Shank (1926–2009), pianist and organist Douglas Clare Fischer (1928–2012) and Jazz guitarist Joseph Anthony Passalaqua aka Joe Pass (1929–1994), all of them at the peaks of their careers. Recorded in Hollywood and released in 1963 on Shank's house label Pacific Jazz Records, the album additionally features the talents of bassist Ralph Peña, percussionists Chuck Flores and Milt Holland as well as vibraphonist and drummer Larry Bunker.


If this constellation and consistency of instruments rings a bell, then one can indeed look forward to Brasamba!, as it is as strikingly exotic as guitar luminary Barney Kessel’s less optimally titled Contemporary Latin Rhythms, released in the same year and including downright enthralling overtones and harmonies which only feature Latin rhizomes, but otherwise exotify the presented material, and severely so. Bud Shank and cohorts apply the same trick over the course of ten tracks, a whopping six of them specifically written with this album in mind, with the remaining ones either being clear-cut Latin classics or transformed material hailing from North America. Granted, the melodies are not always perfectly hummable or Pop-oriented, but the textures shimmer and shine, even going so far as to embrace the listener.


The material is mostly residing in upper tempo regions and relies on the cooperation and teamwork between the participating musicians. Those who know and fear Bud shank’s much more convoluted Jazz stompers such as Barefoot Adventure (1961) are in for a treat. Fans of Barney Kessel and that exotic sound will get the most out of Brasamba!, but while this sounds like a final statement, this is just the beginning of this review; I will still dissect its good and less luminescent parts in the following paragraphs.


Brasamba! launches with the eponymous title track sans exclamation mark, but otherwise leaves a similarly lasting impression by the means of expression. Launching with Joe Pass’ stupendously thermal guitar chords and moving over to a soothing alto flute as played and envisioned by Bud Shanks, the Latin factor slowly grows, but it is of the amicable, festive kind, not the lovestoned besotted one. Percussionists Chuck Flores and Milt Holland unchain their maracas and ligneous rhythms, Larry Bunker adds vibraphone sprinkles which glow from within the thicket before he lets loose a magnificent drum stampede.


And blimey, it lives up to the samba part of Brasamba. A completely brass-less piece, Brasamba unites the uplifting carefreeness of Brazil and its neighboring countries with the Pagan timbre and savage rhythms of Exotica. Clare Fischer’s Ontem A Noite follows, and Fischer is indeed on board alright, ameliorating the shaker-heavy nocturnal aura with mellowly muffled piano chords, leaving Bud Shank’s tenor saxophone the spotlight which wafts soothingly through the night, with the occasional piano solo to follow nonetheless. It may not be at all convoluted, but Ontem A Noite favors the interplay of the textures rather than potential singalong melodies. Ralph Peña’s double bass aorta and Joe Pass’ Balearic guitar scintillae round off a strikingly Latin theme.


In what could be a curious addition, the gold standard Autumn Leaves by Jacques Prévert, Johnny Mercer and Joseph Kosma really imposes the night on the listener, but it is a tropical night. The lethargy and colder chills of this classic piece are transmuted and put into Latin climes supercharged with ubiquitously sizzling maraca underbrushes, Latin guitar slaps, Shank’s susurrant alto saxophones and a backdrop of piano-based fireflies. Autumn Leaves always works, and this also applies to this Bossa Nova.


The following Sambinha is another unique concoction by Bud Shank and sports that humid ardor via the guitar chords which seem to be directly spawned from the Costa del Sol, sometimes even resembling synthetic textures, for it is almost beyond belief how warm and sun-soaked these chords are. Thankfully, there is no brass instrument on board to pierce through the fervent heat. Fischer’s piano protrusions and Shank’s flute tones are the only other instruments in this almost Ambient-oid phantasmagoria. The pianist’s own Gostoso finishes side A with a similarly warm, but by no means heated afternoon atmosphere which finds two contrapuntal flecks in the forms of Larry Bunker’s glacial vibe droplets and the sprinkler-resembling shaker panorama. Side A thus closes in an accessible way, awash with sunlight.


Side B opens with Leo Robin’s and Ralph Rainger‘s If I Should Lose You whose brass-coated main melody as played by Bud Shank remains in the spotlight, but is further ennobled and pushed south of the border to warmer climes via the already known enmeshment of maracas and warm guitar placentas. Here, however, something is still shiny and new, for Clare Fisher decides to do his Walter Wanderley impression on the pointillistic organ, adding a quasi-electronic and enchanting element to the tropical place.


While the following Barquinho by Roberto Batalha Menescal and Ronaldo Fernando Esquerdo Bôscoli is a particularly translucent midtempo piece due to the omnipresence of vibe coils, flute flumes, high plasticity slaps on the acoustic guitar and Surf Rock-adjacent drums, the next two songs are two unique compositions written by Clare Fischer: Serenidade sports that wondrous twilight by merging silkened crepuscular alto saxophone breezes with late afternoon guitars and moonlit piano billows, with even the shakers being streamlined and less large-grained in order to waft through the elysian phase of contemplation, while Elizete is one of the rare string-driven tunes which lets Ralph Peña’s double bass shimmer through the acoustic guitar formations all the better. The finale is a standard often found in Exotica albums.


Antônio Maria Araújo de Morais’ and Luiz Floriano Bonfá’s Samba De Orfeu ends things with a blast and seems to derive from a completely different recording session or even album! La la chants, a densely layered coppice of cowbells, Samba drums, liquid chimes and turbulent yet benign flute melodies make this the strictest Latin tune of the whole album. Drum aficionados will get the most out of it.


Even though the trio of Bud Shank, Clare Fischer and Joe Pass is prominently mentioned on the front artwork and the album does indeed breathe and live due to their skillful prestidigitation and ear for carved out melodies, Brasamba! is still the result of a proper septet, bursting at the seams of the Exotica-compatible land of Latin music. You will not find any crestfallen or mystically sanguine chord in here, for this album is all about euphony, the interdependency of – and trust between – the involved instrumentalists as well as the transformation of otherwise perfectly North American or European material that was decidedly not created with the Samba or Bossa Nova style in mind. The effect works best on Autumn Leaves, admittedly not the most curious tune to enter an Exotica or Latin album, as it is often considered and incessantly transformed. Here, however, the boost in tempo, instruments and atmosphere works really well, and those who know Autumn Leaves by heart either shake their heads in disdain or nod due to the level of innovation.


The mixture between midtempo and bustling speeds ought to be appreciated, as do the many ingredients found in Exotica albums, among them the piano, vibes and cavalcades of drums. That Clare Fischer does not play his piano in that clichéd Latin way has to be applauded, and so should Bud Shank’s perfect balancing between saxophone-infested and flute-only pieces. Joe Pass, finally, advects rather lackluster Balearic timbres and incredibly magnificent dreamy counterparts qua his signature instrument into the arrangements. The guitar work is great, the textures mostly languorous and mellow. This is one of those Latin albums that is much closer to the Exotica genre than the sylvan tendrils it seems to advertise and caress, and is thus a valuable artifact in one’s collection. Available on red vinyl and a remastered download version on Amazon MP3, iTunes and streaming sites.


Exotica Review 485: Bud Shank, Clare Fischer & Joe Pass – Brasamba! (1963). Originally published on Jul. 25, 2017 at AmbientExotica.com.