For almost five decades Azymuth have been joining the dots between jazz-funk, samba, psychedelic electronics and cosmic dance music. Pioneering ambassadors for the music and culture of their nation, they are one of Brazil's most successful exports and with two founding members now in their seventies, they show absolutely no sign of slowing up.
Starting out in small bars in 1960s Rio as session musicians, the three founding members lived on the same bohemian block in Copacabana. After been blown away by their playing, keyboard player and pianist Jose Roberto Bertrami invited Ivan Conti and Alex Malheiros to record with him under the name Group Projeto 3. These formative years amongst the backdrop of the Rio samba, jazz and bossa scenes were the first signs of the birth of a new sound, unlike any other in Brazil or the world. But it was the early 1970s when things really started to take off.
The name Azymuth came after Marcos Valle invited them to record on a soundtrack in tribute to the great Brazilian Formula 1 racing driver Emerson Fittipaldi (O Fabuloso Fittipaldi). After the success of the record in Brazil they asked Marcos if they could use the name of one of the tracks ('Azimuth') and the rest was history. Their musical output was enormous at this point, Bertrami’s flat in Laranjeiros was the centre of a cottage industry producing boundary pushing music, infinitely ahead of it's time. The unreleased demos recorded during this period are wild, abstract and feature unbelievable playing from all three members, with technology that very few people in the world had access to, and certainly no-one in Brazil.
Their first recording under the new name was a four track EP for Polydor, which was used in a popular novella (soap opera) which made their name at home. Azymuth went on to release three albums (now all huge cult classics) before the end of the 70s with 79's Light As A Feather becoming one of the best-selling LPs of the year. Azymuth went on to record a string of albums on Milestone in the mid-80s, including the cult classic Outubro. By this point Azymuth had established themselves as one of the world’s great jazz bands, playing around the globe and working with the likes Chick Corea, Joe Henderson, George Duke and Stevie Wonder. This worldwide notoriety was something of a surprise to the band – they were the same streetwise Rio boys playing their own music, which they still thought of as MPB with a touch of jazz. In 1983 Azymuth were at their peak, and the three members had all started solo careers. However, the trio’s burgeoning solo commitments became a heavy burden and by 1987, Azymuth had split.
In the mid 90s Azymuth were still seen as somewhat maverick and aloof by the rest of the Brazilian music industry – their countrymen were almost afraid to deal with them, given the influence and reputation they had built up in the 70s & 80s. They were content playing as session men for a series of visiting producers, effectively opting out of the mainstream industry. The latest of these producers was Far Out's Joe Davis who came with a missionary, fan’s zeal to persuade them to record and release again as Azymuth. He convinced them of their international importance beyond the insular Rio studio scene, and finally to record new a new album for Far Out.
In the studio, their spontaneity shocked Joe – he hadn’t been used to working with artists like this before. Their records really were (and still are) made on the spur of the moment, “when they’re ready to go, they go”. They are quite capable of hammering out three new tracks that will find their way on to the next album in an hour, even after several hours of unproductive pontification. In 1996 the resulting album Carnival was released to critical acclaim – a welcome return to the band’s creative best.
Since then Azymuth have recorded seven new studio albums for Far Out but following the passing of Jose Roberto Bertrami in 2012, remaining members Ivan and Alex took a hiatus from recording. Now almost five years on, the new album sees the Brazilian trio rise from the ashes, continuing the legacy of the keyboard maestro and testifying to his genius as one of the most prolific musicians in Brazil's history. But Fênix also marks a new era in the Azymuth story, as Ivan and Alex are joined by special guest keyboardist Kiko Continentino. Kiko has worked and played with the best of the best in Brazil and the world around and his fresh energy and inspiration on the new album, and on stage has been astounding. The album also features Brazilian percussion legend and old friend Robertinho Silva.
Fênix draws upon five decades of consummate craftsmanship - which coupled Azymuth's endless desire for experimentation and improvisation - has resulted in a 11-track journey encapsulating the full spectrum of the brilliantly coloured expressionist fusion, synonymous with the Azymuth sound.
Fenix is available from today on vinyl, CD and digitally HERE. You can also stream the album in full below.