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Wire Playlist: Ivan Conti

March 2019

The Wire contributor Russ Slater selects 13 essential recordings by the Brazilian percussionist

To mark the release of Poison Fruit, Ivan Conti's first solo album since 1997, The Wire contributor Russ Slater has delved into the Brazilian jazz drummer’s back catalogue to compile an annotated playlist picking out key musical moments in Conti’s journey so far, taking in his role in the longrunning jazz funk trio Azymuth, various other collaborative projects, plus tracks from his time as a session musician over 40 years ago.

Ivan Conti
“Aroeira”
From Poison Fruit (2019)

This is a hard samba (samba dura) played in 2/4 where you can really hear Conti’s use of the Korg Wavedrum in full effect, with the shaker setting the rhythm and imploding toms and other effects adding textures and additional percussive elements. Conti’s wordless vocals, used rhythmically in a style that evokes his earliest work with Marcos Valle, and a loping bass line are the final embellishments.

Azimüth
“Estrada Dos Deuses”
From Azimüth (1975)

One of the defining features of Azymuth was Jose Roberto Bertrami’s keyboard playing (and constantly changing synth sounds) and some of their material as a result feels like a showcase for his work. This track is a great example of how Conti plays around with what could have been a simple slow funk groove, playing in double-speed with intriguing additions of cow bell and toms. This is off their debut album, when they had yet to make that subtle spelling change to their more distinctive Azymuth moniker.

Azymuth
“Rapa Poeira”
From Flame (1984)

Azymuth remained prolific through the 1980s but their output is often too formulaic. “Rapa Poeira” represents a rare excursion into carnival samba with this Conti composition solely consisting of vocals, drums and percussion, a rare wholly acoustic piece from the group.

Jackson Conti
“Amazon Scroll”
From Sujinho (2008)

Conti has spoken of this collaboration with Madlib as being a big influence on Poison Fruit and his aim of uniting drumming rhythms with sequencing and samples. On a track like “Amazon Scroll” he is even afforded more space than in Azymuth to offer up solos and augment this particular jazz funk drumming pattern.

Azimüth
“Periscópio”
From Azimüth (1975)

With wah-wah guitar and burning organ, this is one of the funkiest songs that Azymuth ever produced. It's helped enormously by the fact that Conti and bass player Alex Malheiros remain locked on the groove throughout, though with continual divergent flourishes. As the group became more aligned with the US jazz scene from the late 1970s onwards they made a feature of syncopated bass and drums, losing some of the simple funk qualities of work like this.

The Ipanemas
“Espraiado”
From Afro Bossa (2003)

In the 1960s the duo of drummer Wilson das Neves and guitarist Neco got together to make a ground-breaking album of Afro-sambas that became a cult favourite. Eventually they reunited in the 2000s and enlisted friends like Ivan Conti to play with them. The Conti-written “Espraiado” is a gentler type of samba than he ever did with Azymuth, a samba-canção with a focus on showing the genre’s African roots, as felt in the haunting vocals and use of berimbau.

Azymuth
“Jazz Carnival”
From Light As A Feather (1979)

From Azymuth’s breakthrough 1979 album Light As A Feather (their first for the US jazz imprint Milestone), this was a surprise UK hit single and a perfect example of Conti’s upbeat samba drumming, with constant hi-hat rolls and fills. The addition of cow bell is perhaps one of the reasons this was a crossover disco success.

Ivan Conti
“Pantanal II (Swamp)”
From The Human Factor (1984)

Batuques, to use a term synonymous with Afro-Brazilian drumming that often accompanies dancing and rituals, have been a constant though fleeting feature of Azymuth’s and Conti’s work. “Pantanal II (Swamp)” is a clear example, and an obvious precursor to Poison Fruit. A booming kick drum bass and constant hi-hat and toms whip up a feeling of being immersed in the jungle, with discordant samples offering real menace.

Azymuth
“Águia Negra X Dragão Negro”
From Aguia Não Come Mosca (1977)

A short but highly experimental Azymuth song with Conti’s flailing drums soon sprinting into a carnival samba rhythm. Added cuicabefore waves of sampled crowd noises usher the song away.

Azymuth
“Tribal”
From Pieces Of Ipanema (1999)

When Azymuth signed to UK label Far Out Recordings in the 1990s they experienced something of a revival, even reforming their classic line-up for a spell. “Tribal” was written before that reformation, but shows Conti’s interest in creating detailed percussive landscapes, with layers of rhythm here creating an earthly din.

Eumir Deodato
“Arranha Ceu”
From Os Catedraticos 73 (1973)

Before Azymuth found popularity Conti worked as a session musician and played in radio orchestras in Rio. Although this work, which largely involved playing pop music of the day, did not represent much space for Conti to experiment, tracks like this one from Deodato’s Os Catedraticos 73 album show how he still manages to put his fore-footed stamp on the sound.

Marcos Valle, Paulo Sérgio Valle e Conjunto Azimuth
“Fittipaldi Show”
From O Fabuloso Fittipaldi (1973)

The first appearance of Azymuth happened on this soundtrack to a film about racing driver Emerson Fittipaldi. At times, it makes for some of Azymuth’s most thrilling music, with this hi-hat heavy theme mimicking the drama of a Formula 1 driver’s life, while the string section adds extra bombast.

Ivan Conti
“Ecos Da Mata”
From Poison Fruit (2019)

The ritualistic circular drumming which adorns so much of Conti’s more experimental moments is a big feature on his latest album, with this track showing how he uses samples, echo and reverb to create additional details that suffuse his drumming with added emotionality.

Ivan Conti is interviewed in The Wire 422. Subscribers can access the full article via the online archive.

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