Jonny Wickham: Terra Boa

English bassist leads a wide array of percussion as well as trumpet, saxophone, piano and vibes in a homage to Brazilian music

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Jonny Wickham’s percussion-laden homage to Afro-Brazilian music is interesting not least for the way it lightens the percussive load. It also reduces a squad of 11 musicians in various permutations to smaller groups, with a few of them more than doubling up. Terra Boa is Portuguese for “good earth”.

On Mono No Aware (a nonet), Wickham also plays acoustic guitar, bongo bell, jangles and shekere and others perform on, inter alia, handpan, gong, rainstick and vibraslap. Elsewhere there are appearances by caxixi, pandeiro, claps, mark tree, cavaco, berimbau and surdo. It’s like a bang-tap-shake symposium, with the listener needing to Google instruments that might sound like Rio slang.

There’s a magical, even spiritual, dimension to all this Latin earthiness. It’s derived from the all-embracing Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-Sabi, which sees beauty in impermanence and flaw. Not that the performance of these Wickham-penned charts is anything less than professional – and joyous. One wonders, though, if reflecting on (or seeing from an objective distance) something as raw as South American rhythms lessens their impact.

An almost louring atmosphere at the opening of Berimbau (a septet) soon admits the light and begins to dance in expectation of Irini Arabatzi’s vocalese and a party in full swing – not raucous, but no less intense. One of the album’s delights is Arabatzi’s sweet rendition of lyrics by various hands, including her own.

The diffuse, shimmering intro of Uncanny Valley (an octet) resolves itself into melody and returns at the end, but not before the judicious use of Wurlitzer (Lyle Barton), vibes (Jonny Mansfield) and multi-percussion (Jeremy Shaverin, also prominent elsewhere) has again invoked the spirit of the dance, and imagery as seen through a glass brightly.

The playing on this deftly planned album on the Fresh Sound (New Talent) label generally delivers as promised: it’s new, it’s fresh and it’s talented.

Discography
Mono No Aware; Berimbau; Neon Muse; Uncanny Valley Intro; Uncanny Valley; Space And Time; Terra Boa; Millennium Seagull; Azizam (44.64)
Wickham (b, g, pc, md); Ben Brown (d, pc); Greg Sanders (g, pc); Lyle Barton (p, org); Jeremy Shaverin (pc, cavaco); Irini Arabatzi (v); Tom Barford (ss, f, ts, s, pc); James Copus (flh); Rosie Bergonzi, Tom Hutchison (pc); Jonny Mansfield (vib). London, June 2021.
Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 654