The passion and energy in the performances of Brazilian harmonicist Gabriel Grossi are as crystal clear as the sounds and atmospheres he produces from one of the smallest yet evocative instruments on the bandstand. Described by legendary Toots Thielemans as his successor, Grossi’s many collaborations have included Chico Buarque, Ivan Lins, Guinga and Snarky Puppy. Now he releases his first live album, #motion, on Whirlwind – a joyous celebration of his career to date, dedicated to those he loves, featuring his latest quintet: trombonist Sergio Coelho, pianist Eduardo Farias, bassist André Vasconcellos and drummer Rafael Barata. Guest appearances including celebrated fellow countryman Hermeto Pascoal.
Captured in Brazil over two nights, Grossi describes this as a resumé of around twenty years of icons and influencers who have been so important to him. “Each number pays tribute to a big name from my life story. For example, Mauricio Einhorn was my harmonica professor in the beginning; and trombonist Raul de Souza, I’m still really close to. These guys are 85 now and still playing – a good sign for us!”
Early on, he fell in love with the harmonica, as well as the strong jazz and blues elements in Brazilian music. “Raised in Rio, I have all these references in my blood”, says Gabriel, “and feel that music is definitely a reflection of what we believe. Toots and Mauricio are my main inspirations, but then Hermeto, Wayne Shorter, Joshua Redman, Chet Baker… they’re all so special.” And #motion? For Grossi, his album title has two facets. “I’m constantly playing, learning and moving forward. But also, by sharing contemporary influences with artists from my generation, we are creating our own movement of new Brazilian instrumental music.”
Villa-Lobos’ much-admired orchestral suites, ‘Bachianas Brasileiras’, have been with Grossi since early childhood – and here, the wistfulness of ‘Prelude from the Bachianas Number 4’ tugs at the emotions from a new viewpoint. Breezy ‘A Samba for Toots’, written and recorded for Thielemans when he was 92, was greatly appreciated by the great man; and following the album’s fizzing title track, Grossi’s affectionate ballad ‘From the Bottom of My Heart’ thanks his supportive, music-loving parents. Hermeto joins the quintet for his own ‘Latin Brothers’, full of characteristic unpredictability, contrasted by amiable ‘Play, Raul’ (“Raul de Souza has played with everybody – Miles, Wayne, Herbie…”).
As a teenager, Grossi would take a weekly 18-hour round trip to be tutored by ‘second father’ Mauricio Einhorn, and his warm ‘Embracing Einhorn’ (“even your saddest notes would make me smile”) brings another moment of repose. ‘Banzo’ reflects Brazilian music’s roots in African rhythms, while ‘A Tribute to Bituca’ is for good friend Milton Nascimento (“the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard”). Then, bustling ‘Different Beat’ welcomes Einhorn to the stage before both share a final, touching harmonica duet, ‘Carinhoso’.
“When I looked at my songs, I realised those I liked most were for my idols – so #motion is my heartfelt expression of gratitude”, says Grossi. “It’s my truth and, I hope, somebody else’s truth, too.”
Whirlwind Recordings is a musician-owned and operated, London-based indie that has released an eclectic catalogue of over 130 albums since its inception in 2010. The label provides a platform for showcasing adventurous & visceral music that spans genres, is rooted in originality and has a key emphasis on the improvised. The artists on the label range from established masters to guiding lights of their generation to undiscovered stars in the making.
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