Flavio Silva’s physique suggests he could play defensive tackle for an NFL team were he so inclined, which makes his lightness of touch on the guitar all the more striking. The Brazilian native eschews distortion and high-decibel shredding for delicacy and restraint on his self-released Break Free, which features seven originals and a cover of “Samba e Amor” by fellow Brazilian Chico Buarque. Recorded at Big Orange Sheep Studios in Brooklyn, Silva’s second album flatters this one-time Antonio Hart student as both player and composer, especially when he’s joined on the set by saxophonist Seamus Blake, acoustic bassist Alex “Apolo” Ayala, drummer Curtis Nowosad, pianist James Francies, and, on two cuts, vocalist Michael Mayo.
Jazz is the music’s foundation, of course, but Break Free is also infused with Brazilian feeling and even more pronouncedly soul. Executed with dexterity and conviction, the album swings, but as often the grooves are funky and deliciously so. The opener “Africa” could serve as a template of sorts for the project, what with the strong melodic line by Blake as the springboard and the subtly swinging funk groove by Ayala and Nowosad as the impetus. Of course Silva’s present, too, though first almost subliminally in the way his shadings ornament Blake’s robust expressions and then more assertively during his own solo. Consistent with his overall approach, he begins quietly, attacking the theme from multiple directions until his grip, egged on by the rhythm section, loosens for an aggressive, free-wheeling turn.
To these ears the album’s high point is Silva’s heartfelt rendering of Buarque’s “Samba e Amor,” which exudes a romantic languour that reminds me of Double Rainbow, Joe Henderson’s 2004 homage to Antonio Carlos Jobim, every time I hear it. In this beautiful group performance, Blake in particular distinguishes himself in how sensitively he wraps his tenor around the tune’s sultry melodies, though Silva’s thoughtful solo also honours the spirit of the material admirably. Whereas the similarly Brazilian-influenced “In Search of Peace,” which distinguishes itself from other tracks in featuring Francies on Rhodes, is relaxed, “Brooklyn Bound,” Silva’s attempt to distill the spirit of New York City into music, is naturally taken at a brisk clip. Any doubts about the group’s ability to deliver fire when the material calls for it is soundly laid to rest by the muscular performances on this and the dynamic title track.
Elsewhere, while the energized “Royal Song” is marked by its melodically rich melding of jazz and Afro-Brazilian genres, it’s Mayo’s agile scat singing that you’ll probably remember most, and, its title notwithstanding, “Prayer #2” isn’t a meditative hymn but instead a spirited exercise in loping jazz-funk with a hip-shaking shuffle feel. As Break Free advances, one is repeatedly struck by the quality of Silva’s adventurous compositions, their melodic richness (“Royal Song,” for instance, has not one but two equally potent hooks) and the ease with which they transition into solo statements. As compelling as the performances are, they’d be far less impressive if the material the musicians had been given to work with was sub-par, which is most assuredly not the case.