Triorganico’s Fabiano do Nascimento is eating a sushi snack at the Los Feliz coffee shop we’re in. With his young man’s jet-black beard and the spotless, almost tuniclike white T-shirt he’s wearing, the gaunt guitarist looks like a particularly devout acolyte from a mystical school, or at the very least like someone who would have been given a hard time by airport security around early 2002. It’s the eyes, really — in a town rife with shallow operators, those unusually serious eyes of his mark him as a dedicated believer.
Though he might in conversation refer to spiritual and political matters, Nascimento’s intensity of purpose is entirely at the service of one thing: his music, which he calls “a universal sound,” spreading from his native Brazil through the improv-jazz scene in New York to the bohemian enclaves of East Los Angeles and the more unlikely practice rooms of Orange County.
Nascimento left Brazil a decade ago, at 15, relocating to Costa Mesa to live near his older half-brother, Dave Orlando. Orlando, celebrated as a DJ for his pioneering Dub Club nights, expanded Nascimento’s musical horizons through his impeccably curated record collection, turning him on to Fela Kuti and chaperoning him through the underground of O.C. groovers and hip music cognoscenti.
Local genre-busting soul singer Aloe Blacc quickly spotted Nascimento as a guitar virtuoso who was deadly serious about his instrument (again, those eyes), hyping him to everyone in his L.A. label crew. The Stones Throw family — Peanut Butter Wolf, Madlib et al. — were duly impressed. “Here’s this lanky Brazilian kid,” says Stones Throw manager and dapper scene maker Egon Alapatt, “playing his weird seven-string guitar with Aloe, and we’re all blown away.”
You might guess that a young performer who suddenly finds himself fraternally inducted into scenes like Dub Club and fawned over by the coolest alt-hip-hop and soul-jazz cats in the Southland would probably spend most of his time noodling away in some incense-drenched hill house surrounded by sandaled Zooey Deschanel clones. Not Nascimento. In his downtime between Stones Throw gigs, he cultivated a personal and musical friendship with Pablo Calogero, a 40-something woodwind virtuoso originally from the Bronx who cut his teeth with Tito Puente, Art Blakey and Dizzy Gillespie, and witnessed the birth of hip-hop and new wave with his close pal Jean-Michel Basquiat.
After the demise of the salsa-jazz scene in New York in the mid-1990s, the much-in-demand Calogero relocated to Los Angeles to concentrate on his “upside-down creative music.” Shortly after Calogero settled here, a fresh-off-the-plane teenage Nascimento came into his life during a break at one of his gigs. Calogero was skeptical, but as soon as the kid started playing, something in his mind clicked, and he knew he had found a like-minded musical partner.
Through regular gigs at places like the Baked Potato and Pete’s Café downtown — and, more crucially, patient woodshedding in Calogero’s garage — the two musicians initially developed a guitar-flute thing and devoted themselves to finding an organic fusion between their very different Latin styles. While Los Angeles obviously has a rich tradition of Mexican-influenced Latin music, Calogero’s Nuyorican background was missing “lo Africano.” His jams with this intense youngster from Brazil conjured up that blackness.
The catalyst for these collaborations was a strange little songbook, almost completely unknown in the U.S., by the towering Brazilian jazz composer Hermeto Pascoal. Calogero and Nascimento both fell under the spell of the unusual Calendário do Som, the calendar of sound, a set of 366 short instrumental scores written by Pascoal in 1996 and published the following year to astonishing responses. The rich compositions in Pascoal’s calendar — allegedly a cross between a diary and an offering of a “birthday song” for everybody — served as a springboard for the duo’s garage sessions.
Soon, word of Nascimento and Calogero’s collaboration circulated among the tight-knit local Latin-music community. Several percussionists passed through Calogero’s garage, playing with them there and at their sporadic gigs, until the duo realized that the gifted Tiki Pasillas was playing so consistently with them that they might as well be a trio. “The trio is a really strong formation,” says Calogero. “It’s like Picasso’s painting of the three musicians — clarinet, guitar, percussionist. It’s very mobile, but also everyone has to be really responsible.”
After recording several Calendário songs in Calogero’s garage studio, the newly christened Triorganico branched off into original material inspired by Pascoal’s scores, variations on them, songs by other cult Brazilian composers, like Baden Powell and Moacir Santos, and even short “cositas,” little pieces that they thought perhaps didn’t amount to a whole song but were too interesting to throw away. A selection from all this work was made into a homemade CD, which Nascimento excitedly showed to Blacc.
Blacc passed the CD on to Alapatt at Stones Throw. The band protested that this was “raw stuff, demos,” but Alapatt, who single-handedly runs Stones Throw’s soul-funk reissue label, Now-Again, heard a kindred spirit in the recordings. “They were rough and raw,” explains Alapatt, who knows Brazilian music, “the way things used to be” (no slouchy compliment coming from one of the greatest Brazil-head crate-diggers in the world!). Alapatt talked the band into releasing it as-is, and the result is Convivência, a little-promoted gem of a record that could only have been produced in the progressive melting pot that is today’s Los Angeles.
Influential magazine Waxpoetics, along with the many online music writers who have been spreading the word about Convivência, is hailing it as a modern-day bossa nova classic, “something you’d expect to hear floating from a smoky bossa nova club in the 1950s — not downtown L.A.”
Pascoal’s music, the collaboration’s main inspiration, arose partly as a reaction to the bossa of the late 1950s that evolved into the commercialized music of the jet set by the mid-1960s. The composer, now 73, has continued developing his jazz-inflected Brazilian music, a tireless innovator of the likes of Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and tango maestro Astor Piazzolla. Pascoal has repeatedly gone back to the traditional Northeastern Brazilian rhythms of choro and baião, reworking them and shepherding them into the 21st century.
When Nascimento speaks about the music he loves, it is those traditional rhythms and radical innovators like Pascoal that he is championing. “I live in California. Triorganico’s from here. But my mind is mostly on Brazil,” he insists before launching into a dazzling inventory of all the young kids in Sao Paulo, Brazilia and Minas Gerais who are bringing the old rhythms to life, eschewing rock and metal for the difficult challenges of the cavaquinho or the hard-to-tame seven-string guitar.
Nascimento reminisces about the first time he saw choro prodigy Yamandú Costa on TV, knowing he had found his calling: “I said, ‘Fuck rock & roll. Fuck power chords — he’s destroying that guitar. That’s what I want to do.’ ” Costa and Nascimento are good friends now, and Nascimento visits Brazil at least once a year to sit in with his musical brethren.
Alapatt seems conflicted about “the Starbucks issue”: This is perhaps the kind of music that the chain could be talked into distributing in its ubiquitous stores as “bossa nova.” But regardless of the label hype and the Waxpoetics review, Convivência is exactly the kind of music that could only come out of East L.A. The original compositions and the loving interpretations of Pascoal et al. are the perfect product of Nascimento’s convictions, Calogero’s steady cool, seasoned in the most refined trenches of Latin jazz, Pasillas’ subtle, minimalist beat — and that Eastside garage under the California sun.
Triorganico, Convivência, (Now-Again)