Album Review: Caravela deliver the sparkling fusion of ‘Orla’



Now here’s a new thing beaming out from the London jazz firmament. Caravela, a five-piece multinational band from everywhere (well Portugal, South America and Australia), now based in the capital and delivering their debut LP Orla via None More Records. The record is just a bit different from the burgeoning body of work regularly rolling out from the scene, more song based than instrumental and faithful to the glow of Afro- Brazilian jazz fusion. Revolving around the song writing partnership of vocalist Ines Loubet and guitarist Telmo Sousa but flavoured through the band’s musical sabbatical in Bahia state, Brazil, Orla mixes cool sophistication, samba syncopation and edgy contemporary dynamics. It’s a record with a gentle kick and intoxicating warmth that keeps pulling you back in.

The sprightly ‘A Maciera’ opens the album built around Sousa’s precise funky guitar, an airy shuffling rhythm and Loubet’s agile voice weaving effortlessly around the band action. Gearing up through the chorus with Ben Brown’s crisp drumming and Jonny Wickham’s popping bass raising the tempo under the tight vocal harmonies, it’s an impressive piece of contemporary jazz samba, vibrant, disciplined but not restrained by convention. At one point in ‘A Maciera’ Sousa plays a juddering reverb laden chord sequence in the tune’s bridge, announcing Caravela’s intent to pursue invention through the sweep of Orla’s eight tracks.

That unorthodox streak is taken up with gusto in the following cut ‘Vale de Capao’, a tune inspired by the band’s emotional connection to Bahia. The guitar rhythm stutters, broken beats mix with rustic hand drums and the floaty, almost space jazz melody line eases itself into the action. Even more startling is a strident instrumental mid-section lead by Sousa’s Santana meets Al Di Meola guitar flourishes, supported by Joseph Costi’s driving Rhodes stabs and topped by Loubet’s soaring vocal improv.

The album’s penultimate track ‘Um e Meio’ marks the high point of the progressive fusion journey that Caravelo navigate on Orla. It all starts conventionally enough, stately double bass, sensitive piano and Loubet’s effortless singing; cue a brief switch of electronics before guest rapper/poet Dizraeli introduces some surreal spoken word in response. Blending his tense reflections (“I’m too much in among it, black-eyed with a gassy stomach full of bad chips, I think of her”) with the yearning mystery of Loubet’s vocal is a risky move, but in the swirl of electronica, as Dizraeli’s delivery intensifies, it makes perfect sense.

Presenting the songs on ‘Orla’ in Loubet’s native Portuguese also shows that this band that is astutely tuned into what makes music authentic and powerful. The album is rooted in an emotional connection to places and cultures which adds to its impact. Both ‘Mar Pretu’ and ‘Pexi Secu’ address the scourge of oil pollution on the traditional ways of life on the coasts of Brazil and Cape Verde but from different angles. ‘Mar Pretu’ shifts quickly from a simple upbeat work-song, all buoyant handclaps and busy guitar to something darker, drowning in a surge of synth chords and cymbal crashes. Its partner track ‘Pexi Secu’ introduces a tense post-rock atmosphere, mixes it up with some jazz rock fury and finds room for some carnivalesque rhythms before disappearing into a white noise void.

That swing from subtlety to surprise defines and distinguishes Caravela’s music. Orla picks up the potential they showed with their self-titled first EP and injects it with Hermeto Pascoal spirit plus Caetano Veloso integrity. Fittingly the album closes with the (almost) conventional samba fuelled ‘Solta o Sinal’ sliding so smoothly into those carefree rotating rhythms that it dares you not to move, even a little bit, before leaving. Like all the best albums, this is a record that takes you somewhere outside yourself but gets you home safely.

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