Ilha Dos Frades by Velas

This rare album is a musical summit for Brazilian jazz. Velas is fully in tune with the American ear.

Ilha Dos Frades by Velas: In the small handful of discs we cherish most, this ‘Supergroup’ CD ranks as one of the all-time best.

A short time before Japanese keyboardist Yutaka entered the studio for his self-titled debut album, and a full year before singer Kevyn Lettau did likewise with her own self-titled debut, these two teamed up to front an all-star group of L.A.’s top Brazilian musicians for today One Track Mind offering.

Recorded originally for Japan’s Pony Canyon label, Ilha Dos Frades by Velas stands as a musical summit for Brazilian jazz , sporting arrangements that are fully in tune with the American ear. In the small handful of legendary discs we cherish most, this one ranks as one of the best, from beginning to end.

The leaders of Velas are bassits Jose Marino and guitarist John Pisano, who have their own story to tell, accoridng to L.A. Times’ Zan Stewart, who wrote:

Velas came about when Marino–who, since leaving Donato in 1972, has free-lanced with a variety of artists from Tony Orlando and Dawn to Willie Bobo–got a call from the Nucleus Nuance on a Friday to put together a Brazilian group for the next Wednesday.

“I called John, Frank and Everaldo, and in 20 minutes I had the group,” he recalled. The musicians had a rehearsal or two, playing a lot of arrangements of Brazilian tunes that Pisano had written, and then played the engagement.

“One Wednesday led to another,” Marino said. “We ended up working there for five months. And the band jelled so fast that we thought, ‘Hey, let’s keep this going and see what happens.’ “

Guiding Light?

Much of the credit for the success of this album belongs to a name that is nowhere to be found in liner notes: Sergio Mendes.

A quick glance at the line-up here reads like a ‘who’s who’ list: guitarists Oscar Castro-Neves, drummers Luis Conte and Claudio Slon and keyboardist and singer Kleber Jorge all have long connections to Mendes, and Lettau sang with Sergio’s band for several years.

The musicianship is telling, especially under the direction of Marino, Pisano and Conte. These songs take on a sheen all their own and its easy to hear how this synergy resulted in music above and beyond the written note.

Songs like ‘Muito Mais’ and ‘Voltei Pra Ficar’ showcase Lettau’s soaring musical spirit – and its from this project that she went on to carve out her own niche in Brazilian song.

In many ways, you could easily consider this to be the ‘hidden’ Kevyn Lettau recording.

You could also say the same for Yutaka’s role here – his arrangements and keyboard play sizzle at every turn. The smoothly passionate style that we’ve come to love on his subsequent albums Another Sun and Brazaisa is prominent throughout each of these 11 tracks.

For most any album, these two talents would be more than enough, but when you add the abundance of artistry found here the result is a masterpiece, pure and simple.

This rare album is almost impossible to find. Both the US and the Japanese editions of Ilha Dos Frades by Velas are long out-of-print.

Ilha Dos Frades by Velas

  1. Ilha Dos Frandes
  2. Whenever Your Heart Wants to Sing
  3. Sanhaço
  4. Obsession
  5. Muito Mais
  6. Aquelas Coisas Todas
  7. St. Nick
  8. Voltei Pra Ficar
  9. Confiança Dum Irmão
  10. Up on the Hill
  11. Bosco Mania

Personnel: Yutaka Yokokura, Frank Zottolik (keyboards), Kevyn Lettau (vocals), Justo Almario (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones), Gary Meek (alto saxophone, EWI), Judd Miller (EWI), Oscar Castro-Neves (acoustic guitar, cavaquinho), John Pisano (acoustic and electric guitars, 12 string guitar), Claudio Slon, Alex Acuña (drums), Michael Shapiro (drums, percussion), Luis Conte, Everaldo Ferreira, Laudir DeOliveira (percussion), Kenia, Kevyn Lettau, Frank Zottolik, Kleber Jorge (background vocals).

Ilha Dos Frades by Velas: Produced by Yutaka Yokokura. Tom Sassa, Executive Producer, Jose Marino Associate Producer. Arranged by Yutaka Yokokura, Frank Zottolik, Oscar Castro-Neves, Dori Caymmi and Jose Marino.

Recorded 1989, at Double “Y” Studios. Alahambra, CA. Japan release 1989, US release 1991.

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One Track Mind: Ilha Dos Frades by Velas

And our One Track? The title track, of course.