Personnel: Jose Alexandre Malheiros (vocals, violao); José Roberto Bertrami (vocals, piano, Fender Rhodes piano, Clavinet, ARP synthesizer, bells); Ariovaldo Contesini (vocals, congas, bongos, cuica, surdo); Joao "Parana" Américo (vocals, percussion); Ivan Conti (drums).
Audio Remasterer: John Dent.
Recording information: Estudios Hawai Phonogram, Rio De Janeiro (10/1974-02/1975).
There were Brazilian jazz-funk records before Azymuth's 1975 self-titled offering, but none of them engaged with post-tropicalian psychedelia, MPB, samba, and disco the way this date does -- so much so that the bandmembers called their music "samba doido," which translates as "crazy samba." Azymuth were formed in 1973 by José Roberto Bertrami (keyboards), Alex Malheiros (bass, guitars), and Ivan Conti (drums, percussion). All three had been active session players in the decade before. After playing some club dates and backing other musicians on-stage and in the studio, they began recording Azimüth in 1974, completing it nine months later. Things get off to a mellow start on the dreamy "Linha do Horizonte," as electric piano, ARP strings, a Moog Satellite, acoustic guitar, drum kit, and fretless bass lay down a breezy backdrop for Bertrami to deliver Paulo Sergio's lithe melody. The tune is so blissed-out, playing it nonstop for six or seven hours seems entirely logical. As gorgeous as it is, this is only a small part of what Azymuth do well. "Melô Dos Dois Bicudos" -- which has been used by scores of DJs to animate the dancefloor -- is simultaneously jittering and martial; it's funky Brazilian samba at its best. While there's a reprise of the ethereal on the tender "Brazil," it's got its own little groove, informed by not only by '60s Brazilian jazz but also by the American soul-jazz of Joe Sample and the Crusaders. "Seems Like This" is trancey jazz-funk with serpentine lines by Bertrami, a punchy hypnotic bassline by Malheiros, and organic percussion and shuffling kit work from Conti. The entire frame shifts when Bertrami's voice enters; time gets stretched and the groove may bump, but it's juxtaposed against a melody that is equal part disco-soul and psychedelic samba. "Estrada Dos Deuses" is a bumping floor-groover with a wind-out synth line that hints at the sounds to come on 1977's Aguia Nao Come Mosca. The set's final two tracks have become DJ classics in the intervening decades. "Morning" was remixed by Peanut Butter Wolf, and with good reason. The cuica and bassline vamp is hypnotic, while Bertrami's synths and strings color his layered vocal repetitions of the title before his Rhodes piano adds enough jazzy improv to make it infectious. Closer "Periscópio" is a seven-and-half-minute jam with a monster funk groove. Malheiros' dirty-ass bassline is as nasty as Bootsy's and appended by raging organ (think Charles Earland) and trancey drum and percussion work. The breaks are killer, the pace picks up and slows, but the whole thing just coils around the listener like a snake that doesn't let go until an organ briefly cuts the tension (church-like) before a clavinet riff, layers of choogling percussion, and funky drums bring back the organ and bassline in overdrive and the tempo charges to the finish. Azimüth signaled even greater things to come. But no matter what the band achieved, this stands as a stone classic, eternal in funky music history. ~ Thom Jurek