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Although he came on the scene in Brazil in the late 1950s — at the same time as a youthful group of talented contemporaries was creating what became known as bossa nova — virtuoso guitarist and composer Baden Powell was something of a stylistic outlier. Unlike iconic bossa pioneers such as Antônio Carlos Jobim, Roberto Menescal and João Gilberto, among others, Powell was one of just a few Afro-Brazilians to gain prominence during that era. And rather than look to Rio’s exotic landscape and lissome bikini-clad beauties for inspiration, Powell chose to explore the fertile realm of Afro-Brazilian cultural rites for many of his works. Although he penned his share of bossa-infused ditties, Powell’s complex and longform “Afro-Sambas,” as he dubbed them, occupy their own special place in the history of Brazilian popular music. Gui Duvignau, a French-Brazilian bassist, focuses on this rich aspect of the composer’s legacy on Baden (Sunnyside). The dozen-track program pays the ultimate respect to Powell’s most compelling work by exposing his compositions to the improvisational whims of woodwind artist Billy Drewes, keyboardist Lawrence Fields and, on four tracks, guest artist guitarist Bill Frisell. Drewes is particularly effective, his sharp-toned reading illuminating the inner soul of “Canto de Xangô” (a deity in the Yoruba religion). Fields is equally robust in his turn, before the quartet (with Duvignau and drummer Jeff Hirshfield) restates the mesmerizing theme. “Canto de Iemanjá” (the Queen of the Sea in African mythology), one of Powell’s better-known compositions, is haunting in its simplicity, with Drewes’ pithy statement of the melody over the churning swells of Fields’ pianistics. For his part, Frisell’s minimalist technique is in stark contrast to Powell’s rhythmically robust style.
“O Astronauta” is right out of a club setting, a straightforward quartet piece with its own charm and a tidy showcase for bassist Duvignau and drummer Hirshfield. It’s a reminder that while Powell’s influences spanned many stylistic guideposts, his most arresting output was attained when he looked to his own culture for inspiration. — Mark Holston https://open.spotify.com/album/4S6UvbVfRc3saAfQAmkZVs?si=P5eqhSCCSJySbnmn1EMKMw