Both of his previous albums--Swingado (2016) and Nu Brasil (2018)—received international Best Album awards. Finesse must certainly reap the same critical harvest. This must be absolutely expected as Finesse is an evolutionary step forward in his music’s complexity and development, as well as his remarkable virtuosity as a guitarist.
Pereira gathers together a brilliant array of artists, most notably fellow-Brasilian composer and drummer Mauricio Zottarelli. With them are Reza Khan and Marcus Teixeira on guitars, Helio Alves on piano, Matt King on piano and keyboard, Paulo Paulelli, André Vasconcelos, and the amazing Mark Egan on bass, Emilio Martins on percussion, and vocals by Pereira himself with Paula Santoro and Filó Machado. David Mann plays soprano and tenor saxes and flutes and Ralph Moore plays alto sax. Rubinho Antunes plays trumpet and flugelhorn with Jorghino Neto on trombone. Victor Gonꞔalves is on the accordion, Gabrial Grossi on harmonica, and Christos Rafalides on vibes.
Some of the most memorable and exciting performances are by Pereira, Zottarelli, and Egan. And why not? With these three as the anchors, the entire corps of artists and locked in.
The gentle samba and bossa rhythms and melodies are warm and embracing. Morning Mist, Samba de Outono (Autumn Samba), and Dreamsville are absolutely intoxicating, all three with Paulelli on bass. Each of the songs are like Brasilian Jazz tone poems and Pereira’s acoustic guitar work is lovely and deserving of great praise.
Quase 9 (Almost 9), Desfilando a Vitória (Victory Parade), and Frio Lugar (Cold Place) feature Vasconcelos on bass. On Quase 9, Helio gets some fine and understated piano in while Moore adds his distinctive alto sax. The festival atmosphere of Desfilando a Vitória is enhancing by the great flugelhorn of Antunes and the bracing trombone of Neto. Then the cool accordion of Gonꞔalves on Frio Lugar adds to the great fun of the track list. Paula Santoro’s vocals are indeed worth the listen.
The core four pieces of the album are represented by the triumvirate—as mentioned above—of Pereira, Zottarelli, and Egan. Beginning with the opening track, White Lion, it is this lineup that nails the tightest rhythms and offer the most energetic of the album. Ursaia’s flutes make a delightful addition to the opening piece, pairing wonderfully with Pereira’s guitar, and Alves’ piano is lovely.
Finesse, the title track, is an adventure in exactly that—finesse. The precision of the Pereira, Zottarelli, and Egan is elegantly wrapped in Machado’s vocals. Rafalides’ vibes add to the rapturous quality of the composition and performance. Add Egan’s fretless bass and this track is a wonder, perhaps my favorite on the album. Then comes Give Me 5, which indeed has the percussive imagery of two friends slapping hands in greeting. Grossi harmonica gives a warm and familiar feel that expands the atmosphere already established by Pereira’s guitar and Matt King’s keyboards.
Let It Out is the final track of the core four with Pereira, Zottarelli, and Egan and with the wonderful David Mann on saxes and flutes. In fact, Mann co-arranges the song. This song puts one in mind of Larry Carlton’s coolest work. But make no mistake, Pereira is his own guy. The vocalizations from Pereira, the flute and soprano sax from Mann, and the gentle swinging of Egan and Zottarelli, make this a treasure.
Indeed, the whole Finesse album is a treasure. The attention to feel and finesse—had to say it—makes this one of the best guitar-oriented albums of the year. Sergio Pereira has the heart and mind and touch to be a continuing contributor to the Jazz world for a long time to come. And we should warmly welcome that.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl