Aristides Zaccarias was one of the great Brazilian bandleaders of the 1940s and '50s, a big band powerhouse who pioneered the jazzy gafieira style and recorded some of the most toe-tapping, swinging sides of the postwar era. He worked in a number of orchestras in the '30s, before finally starting his own band in 1943, playing in nightclubs and recording prolifically, often with pianist Fats Elpidio. Mestre Zaccarias recorded only a few albums (most of his career predated LPs) but he left behind a wealth of great, groovy records. Here's a quick look at his career...
Zaccarias E Sua Orchestra "Sambas Em Desfile" (RCA Victor, 1955)
A lively set of orchestral samba music, uptempo and definitely made for dancing. The bandleader known as Zaccarias released a bunch of albums in the 1950s, and was what I guess could be considered the "world music" scene of the era -- those odd albums that appealed to Americans (and others) in search of a kooky new dance craze, or who needed a souvenir album of their travels abroad. I've found several of his records floating around, and while they can seem a little square, in general they are more rockin' than many "exotic" dance albums of the time. This disc in particular highlights his link to the big band/samba/jazz style known as gafieira: it's a pretty punchy, straightforward samba set. Awesome album art, too!
Quarteto Excelsior "Jantar Dancante" (RCA, 1955)
A mellow set from a tight quartet featuring bandleader Zaccarias, pianist Fats Elpidio, and a compact bass-drums rhythm duo. This album isn't as sneaky or as inventive as some of their later stuff, but the samba songs that comprise Side One are nice... Side Two has three long medleys of North American standards ("Embraceable You," etc.) Overall, pleasant to hear, but not an earthshaking album. The highest nostalgia quotient comes with the Brazilian material, and those few songs are pretty sweet.
Zaccarias E Sua Orchestra "Frevos" (RCA Victor, 1955)
Quarteto Excelsior "Coquetel Dancante, v.1" (RCA, 1957)
An enchanting nostalgic oldie, featuring bandleader Zaccarias, best known for his work with a large gafieira orchestra, here performs in a small group setting, playing clarinet himself, with nimble backing by pianist Fats Elpidio. Fats comes up with some wildly inventive riffs, details that might not be apparent at first, but that become more impressive with repeat auditions. The sparse, halting arrangements and reserved vocal style give this a sort of a '50s glee-club sound, but a deep reservoir of jazzy savvy runs underneath it all, giving these stripped-down samba-cancao tunes a surprising little zing. This record is a lot of fun, once you give it a chance.
Zaccarias E Seu Conjunto Boite "Uma Noite No Country Club" (RCA Victor, 1958)
A swinging album showcasing what's basically an expanded edition of the Quarteto Excelsior, with added percussion and a trumpet. Great trumpet, too: the interplay of the horns and Fats Elpidio's wicked piano is amazing, while Zaccarias and Romeu handle the vocals. Side One of the album is labeled as "sambas'; Side Two has a bunch of "fox trot" tunes, an anachronistic way of referring to big band-ish, North American-style dance standards. Normally I tune out when Brazilians go too far into straight American-style music, without the requisite dose of Brazilian-ness, but this disc hit me differently, mainly because of the skill and intelligence used by this compact combo. This was a nightclub band that was clearly a cut above: they must have been a gas to see live. Also, on a "foxtrot" like "Lullaby Of Birdland," the material introduces a bluesiness that is uncommon on a lot of Brazilian jazz... And Elpidio really digs into it, with authority and gusto, and a sharp, snappy sense of humor. This is whatchamacallit, "easy listening," I suppose... but it sure sounds nice!
Zaccarias E Sua Orchestra "Frevos" (RCA Victor, 1958)
Zaccarias E Sua Orchestra "Sambas Em Black Tie" (RCA Victor)
Zaccarias E Sua Orchestra "Musica, Maestro!" (RCA Victor, 1959)
Quarteto Excelsior "Coquetel Dancante, v.2" (RCA, 1959)
Quarteto Excelsior "Coquetel Dancante, v.3" (RCA, 1960)
Zaccarias E Sua Orchestra "Festa Em Casa" (RCA Victor, 1962)
Zaccarias E Sua Secao De Palhetas "Palhetas Espetaculares" (RCA Victor, 1962)
A sleek, glitzy big-band set, with modest samba percussion and bossa-nova influenced guitar -- by Baden Powell(!) who is prominently mixed into the foreground, and holds his own against a large, tight horn section. These horns include several heavy-hitters in the world of Brazilian jazz, notably Paulo Moura on clarinet. Pianist Fats Elpidio is on here, too, but he largely seems lost in the mix, his often-inventive improvising sidelined in favor of tight, decisive horn arrangements. This makes sense, since the focus of the album is on the "palhetas," or certain orchestral sections, in this case saxophones and clarinets, and how instruments in the same range interact with each other. It's a little too square for me, but folks who appreciate tight orchestrations and fancy charts will probably dig this... Plus, it's got a beat you can definitely dance to!
Zaccarias And His Orchestra "Dance The Bossa Nova" (RCA Camden, 1962) (LP)
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