The Brazilian pianist and composer André Mehmari brings his trio to the Pacific Northwest for the first time next week for shows in Portland, Seattle and Bellevue. I'm grateful that I was able to catch a phone interview with this truly brilliant musician.
André started music studies at age 5, and by the time he was 10, he'd taught himself jazz improvisation and started composing. He's won awards for popular and classical music performance and composition, and he also plays guitar, violin, bass, percussion, flute and clarinet.
"This will be my first time in Washington. I come to the U.S. every year, I have musical friends in New York, so I go there often," says André. He frequently performs solo, or in a duo with a singer, but this time around, it's his trio. "It's a classic jazz trio, but with a Brazilian twist, different colors coming from different streams of music," he says.
Joining André are drummer Sérgio Reze and bassist Neymar Dias. André says "Sérgio has been performing with me for over 20 years now, since I was 19. He's a unique drummer, he uses the drumset in unusual ways. Neymar plays the double-bass, electric bass and also the Brazilian ten-string guitar called 'viola caipira,' which is used in Brazilian folk music. Neymar recently recorded an entire album of Johann Sebastian Bach played on viola caipira."
"I use the analog synthesizer to expand the piano's sound and complement it," he adds.
André's current crowd-funded recording project celebrates the Clube da Esquina, a Brazilian artists collective that produced, among other things, a double album in 1972. The Clube da Esquina movement mixed rock, soul, bossa nova, jazz, classical, indigenous and even Brazilian "country music."
Singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento was the most prominent artist of the Clube da Esquina movement, which was considered inclusive and representative of all Brazilians.
"I really love the songbook that's from the early 70s in Brazil," Andre explains. "The voice of Milton Nascimento can encompass all sorts of musical currents, and it's something really beautiful and moving. So now we are recording this music in a trio setting. We've been performing it live for quite a while, so we decided to dedicate an entire album to this music especially."
André loves recording so much that he built his own studio. That's where he recorded the 2017 album Guris with Jovino Santos Neto.
"I have a passion for recording," says André. "Two years ago I built a studio in the Cantareira Hills near São Paulo, and it's like a real dream for me, because I can record a symphony orchestra there. I have a concert grand piano there. I can produce my own recordings and also record the music of my contemporaries. It's a very high-end studio that I'm very proud of."
He fondly recalls the Guris recording session. "Jovino was the first person to step into my new studio. It wasn't even finished! We had so much fun, some of the happiest days in recent memory," says André. "I'd been hearing his music, with Hermeto Pascoal, since I was 12 years old, and I was familiar with his playing before I met him in person. He took me into Hermeto's world. And I'm very much looking forward to meeting up with Jovino in Seattle."
André has toured most of the world, excluding Australia and Russia. He's been to Japan seven times and he's released several albums there. He sees himself as primarily a composer, and he recieves commissions from all over the globe. When he's not touring, he's in his studio composing. In March, he'll have another dream come true: a string orchestra and guest soloists in his studio, recording his own compositions.
Listen for André and Jovino playing "Tambô d'Oshó" from Guris this week on Saturday's Jazz Caliente.
Be sure to catch the André Mehmari Trio live at one of their three shows in the Pacific Northwest: Jan. 25 in Portland, Oregon, at Classic Pianos; Jan. 26 at the Columbia City Theatre in Seattle; and Jan. 27 at Resonance at SOMA Towers in Bellevue.
Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5 p.m. The show is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.