Direct from Recife in Northeastern Brazil, the SpokFrevo Orquestra was the centerpiece of Lincoln Center’s three-day Brazilian Festival.
SpokFrevo is a 17-piece Big Band, led by the progressive, free-spirited saxophonist, composer, arranger Inaldo Cavalcante de Albuquerque, more commonly known as “Spok.” The orchestra specialized in frevo, a style whose origins date back to the second-half of the 19th century in Recife, where the maxixe, the Brazilian tango, the quadrille, the gallope, the military two-step and the polka inexplicable combined to form a hybrid.
As a child Spok listened to frevo on the radio and became acquainted with the frevo masters, the popular poets and the pioneers of baião – a rhythmic formula that became the basis for a wide range of music, through his father, who was passionate about the music. In 1986, Spok moved to Recife, where he honed his craft under the tutelage of some of the most renowned conductors, composers, and music teachers.
In 1995, he formed the orchestra. During its initial years, the orchestra played frevo songs as they were written. Today the music is jazzier, and the emphasis is on improvisation, rhythmic variation, and artistic freedom.
At Jazz at Lincoln Center the orchestra’s repertoire was a mixed bag of original compositions – “Spokiando” and “Moraes de Frevo”- and classic compositions by Dori Caymmi, Paulo César Pinheiro and Jovinos Santos Neto among others. The delightful medley, “Muito delicioso, Muito delicioso, Deliciosamente” (Very Delicious, Very Delicious, Deliciously) was a delightful highlight.
Special guests included the Chilean saxophonist, composer, and 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition winner Melissa Aldana, the renowned trombonist, composer, conductor arranger Wycliffe Gordon, accordion player Victor Gonçalves and trombonist Natalie Kressman.
Frevo is relatively new to American ears, but it’s mostly instrumental music, which makes it free of the linguistic barriers that prevent listener’s from enjoying it at face value. By nature, frevo is fast, often loud, vibrant, rich and energetic.
SpokFrevo’s strength lies in its power, precision and commitment to spreading the frevo gospel. As I left the room, I wondered what would happen if the orquestra expanded its repertoire to include jazz standards and a wider range of material. Judging by what I saw, the orquestra is more than up to the task.
For a taste of SpokFrevo, I highly recommend the album, “Ninho de Vespa.” For those who are interested in digging deeper, I highly recommend the documentary film, “Sete Coraçoes” (Seven Hearts), which follows the exploits of Spok and seven renowned frevo masters in the days leading up to Carnival.
SpokFrevo is: Spok – alto, soprano sax; Carlos Cleber (Kebinha) – alto sax; Gilberto Pontes – tenor sax; Rafael Santos – tenor sax; Enok Chagas – trumpet; Augusto Franca – trumpet; Flavio Sanatana – trumpet; Erico Verissimo – trumpet. Elci Ramos – trombone, Marcane Tulio; Adonis Garcia – trombone; Thomas de Lima – trombone; Renato Bandeira – guitar; Helio Silva – bass; Adelson Silva, drums; August Silva – drums and percussion; Didi Simpata – percussion.
Photos: Frank Steward – Jazz at Lincoln Center