Robson Fernandes – Blue Central
11 song/50 minutes
Blues is a deeply canonical music. Traditions run deep and the music is often most beautiful when it is simple, uncluttered and direct. Innovation and self expression, therefore, comes from emotional honesty and personal style. How a guitarist bends a note, the accent a singer naturally has or uses, the rhythm sequence a drummer chooses, the imagery a songwriter uses to express themselves. Brazilian Bluesman Robson Fernandes epitomizes personal style within traditional confines. Fernandes plays a flexible and Jazz informed harp and sings with an impassioned Brazilian accent. Robson’s latest record Blue Central is not only a testament to his substantial talent but an excellent example of the Chicago and West Coast informed Blues that are coming out of Brazil.
Blue Central is a vibrant blues romp that has a distinct South American perspective. Rhythm section Victor Busquets on bateria (drums) and Marcos Klis on baixo acustico e eletrico (acoustic and electric bass) create a strong poly-rhythmic bounce that is informed by Brazil’s native sambas and bossas. Robson sings English lyrics with a distinct Brazilian accent. He seems to notch the accent up and down depending on the song, using it to great effect like a guitarist might use reverb or distortion. This technique is especially dynamic on his very traditional arrangement of Muddy Waters “Long Distance Call.”
This record has hard swing, sophisticated jazz and grooving funk. Opener “All I Can Do” written by Fernandes and writing partner/co-producer Carlos Sander is a smooth stroll and a well crafted song. Instrumental title track “Blue Central” is reminiscent of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s “East/West” and is made transcendent by vibraphonist Andre Juarez. The other instrumental “Pueblito” is overtly Brazilian sounding. It has a bossa styled beat and classic acoustic guitar solo by Danny Vincent. “I Don’t Care,” written by Vincent, plops down sticky funk with it’s wah wah guitar and stand out solo by virtuoso guitarist Marcos Ottaviano .
Blues Central is a showcase for the great talent coming out of Brazil. Main guitarist Danilo Simi is classy and rock solid and supported on two tracks by Nicolas Simi on rhythm guitar. 6 string guest soloists lead by Ottaviano include Danny Vincent and Decio Caetano. Other contributors include Daniel Latorre on Hammond organ, Juarez on vibraphone, Donny Nichillo on piano, Joey Stann and Kito Siqueira on saxophones and Luiz Claudio Faria on trumpet.
At the heart of all the great performances by these fine Bluesmen is Fernandes’ stellar harmonica playing. Often playing diatonic harp with a saxophonist’s fluidity, Robson is an instrumental virtuoso. Blowing mostly amplified, there is tasteful use of the overblow, that is bending up of a note that is pretty derisive among harp players. Fernandes uses this technique, along with regular bending and other neat harp tricks, to keep his sound eclectic and inventive.
Fernandes’ last album Cool was recorded straight to tape live, a creative choice and a distinct sound. Blue Central, produced by Fernandes and Sander, does not seem to be live to tape but the sound is equally creative. There is a slightly gauzy reverb-ed sound to the music that is reminiscent of the Stone’s Exile On Main Street. The sound of this record serves the music and reinforces the classic Chicago vibe of the album. But, the personal style and self-expression of Robsen Fernandes and his collaborators creates a fresh approach to the Blues. This is deep real deal Blues that highlights the great music coming out of Brazil.