There’s seems to be something going on here. The steady flow of fine soul – jazz oozing from Brazil to pep up our mainstream menus shows no sign of drying up. In the last few months new albums from Joao Selva, Tagua Tagua and the ever-dependable Lucas Santanna have brought an individual verve to the becalmed pool of generic contemporary r n’ b. Then along comes Caixa Cubo with their new record ‘Agôra’ to add their own creative current to this swelling tide of influential MPB.
Steeped in jazz and the samba/bossa confluence, committed to funk and the heart of soul, here is a trio who on this album continue to make headway. Not that you would expect anything else from a group that last year released the buoyant breakout album ‘Angela’ on Heavenly, a record that had people whispering Azymuth and Herbie Hancock comparisons. Now with the more homely Jazz & Milk label, ‘Agôra’ sees the Säo Paulo threesome continue with their bustling jazz fusion but this time around switch things up with the additional contributions from a range of other players. The Caixa Cubo core, Henrique Gomide (keys), João Fideles (drums) and Noa Stroeter (bass) remain the central force, but this new album has a fluid ensemble feel that strengthens those vibrant borderless grooves.
The luscious Dreams captures this expansion as it winds up from a double bass and bluesy Rhodes funk introduction to a blooming jazz ballad. The twin vocals of regular collaborator Zé Leônidas and nu-soul chanteuse Xenia Franca share the spacey narrative, their contrasting voices adding an extra layer to the song’s r n’ b vibe, while the lilting scat swing brings a sixties pop allure to the final bars. Such classic balladry continues with the glossy Carrossel, all goose-bump minors and Zé Leônidas smooth jazz croon, but also gets extended with the album closer Oblique Sunshine. Vocalist Rebekka Zeigler effortlessly scales a breath- taking spoken word to top note trajectory as the track wakes up and stretches high in the space of three minutes. A love song to the sun and stars may sound worthy but Caixa Cubo avoid that trap, bathing the tune in a resonant spiritual jazz authenticity.
The sonic scope of ‘Agôra’ is also pulled more daringly in the afro-jazz direction with the support of South African musicians Bongani Unthanks and Mpho Nkuza on the assertive Ndiyakhangela. Part chant, part shamanistic intensity, Noa Stroeter’s bass bop and João Fideles’s skittering snare-play may whip the track along, but it’s the vocal earthiness of Unthanks and Nkuza plus Eric Owusu’s urgent percussion that defines the song. It’s a track with that a similar raw bop drive as any BCUC moment, part mystery, part magic and descendant from those afrobeat roots. Owusu, the Ghanaian singer with that other 2022 breakthrough act Jembaa Groove, also brings his voice and rhythmic clicks to the re-imagined samba jazz of Asase. Here, alongside the Afro-Brazilian rhythms, the strident Henrique Gomide synths and his leftfield keyboard-sprayed arrangement both seem to rattle at the standard soul-jazz orthodoxies. This is new sounding sophistication.
That inner confidence, self- belief and faultless precision of the Caixa Cubo trio is the platform for the success of their more expansive approach on ‘Agôra’. The Gomide/Fideles/Stroeter partnership is a deep seated relationship that has grown through twenty years of knowing each other and playing together, from the Säo Paulo circuit to the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. They trust each other, take risks and get impressive results. That’s why an album as dynamic and focused as this could emerge from a three day session with the caring support of producer (and label boss) Chris ‘Dusty’ Doepke.
Such tight connectivity within the Caixa Cubo triumvirate also means that when the trio’s playing is more upfront on the new album the results are stunning. The elegant glide of Kismeti, with its crisply choreographed nu-samba rhythms and rippling trumpet lines from guest Matthias Schriefl, just begs to be stretched out that little longer. The same could be said for the strolling, post MOR Casio & Eric. Featuring the clipped ringing runs of Sao Paulo guitarist Eduardo Camargo alongside the characteristic Henrique Gomide cascading keys and subtle synth detailing, it’s an economic but enduringly refreshing hit. Then, in amongst these mid-tempo considerations, you get the with the sharp grooved super-funk of Sábado. Channelling the racy pace and dynamism of their home city, the cut swerves through a fast-moving jazz fusion/samba interchange. From snare intense beats, steamy bass pumps, swooning vocal pauses and slippery piano, Sábado gets you to yet another destination.
Such a well-judged injection of directness underlines the strength of this understated but impactful album. The highs, lows, louds and softs come exactly when they are needed. Sure, there is a lot of variation on ‘Agôra’ but Caixa Cubo, with their musicality and intuition, have brought everything together into a coherent whole. Perhaps fittingly the title track readily summarises the band’s overall ambitions as it hurtles along in a no-wave, afro-jazz, post- bop adrenaline rush. Succinct, smart, electric and exciting, this is Caixa Cubo music, fresh, progressive and in some ways in-progress. It’s a part of their journey that’s not to be missed.
Get your copy of ‘Agôra’ by Caixa Cubo from your local record store or direct from Jazz & Milk HERE