Sitting in the pews of Town Hall Seattle, it felt as if I could physically breathe in the sound of the jazz quintet, Jovino Santos Neto Quinteto. The venue’s dim lighting and warm atmosphere complemented the quintet’s style well, and the open seating encouraged a sense of community within the audience, a vital aspect of the personal nature of the quintet’s music. The pieces Jovino Santos Neto Quinteto composes and performs are their own language; combining jazz and traditional Brazilian music, each instrument is simultaneously percussion and melody. By the end of the set, the audience felt comfortable in the space the quintet created, creating a distinctive musical atmosphere and reminding us of the joys of human connection.
With Mark Ivester on drums, Ben Thomas on vibraphone and bandoneon, Freddy Fuego on trombone and flute, Alex Dyring on bass, and Jovino Santos Neto on piano, the quintet’s music is tight without losing its laidback and personal feel. The style plays with 7/4 time signatures and beautifully syncopated rhythms, and each note is packed with emotion. The bouncy syncopation of Brazilian folk music, blended with the soothing groove of jazz, makes for a unique and captivating experience. However, beyond the technical complexity, the nature of the Quineto’s music is such that for it to be fully understood, the musicians must pour their entire soul into the song. While beautiful when interpreted as notes on a page, the real music comes from the performers.
Each string Dyring plucks on the bass is injected with as much meaning as possible through dynamics, tempo, and sometimes experimenting outside the key, creating distinct impressions of sorrow, joy, and something more complex. The playful rhythms of the vibraphone add a lightness to the deep passion of the bass, and the drums are filled with a sense of movement that gives the pieces a clear and suspenseful direction. Neto’s piano riffs are playful and light while drawing on richer motifs from the rest of the band, acting as both a storyteller and a mediator in the musical conversation, telling playful jokes and meaningful observations alike. Both the group as a whole and each individual musician’s playing is packed with personality, and the musical subtexts are unique in a magical way. One can see the musician’s personality through their tendency to break rules and improvise or add wayward accidentals, adding their own flavor to the pieces they play.
One of the things that makes Jovino Santos Neto Quinteto especially unique is the conversational nature of their playing. As is typical of a jazz performance, there are elements of call and response between instruments. But the complexity and depth this conversation has is remarkable. A usual jazz performance might have a charming back and forth between instruments; the trombone will play a riff and the piano will play it back, adding embellishments as the performer sees fit. But Jovino Santos Neto Quinteto takes this conversation to a whole new level. The calls and responses overlap each other, a little like a round while still maintaining a sense of spontaneous improvisation, producing a playful atmosphere that reminds the listener not to take things too seriously and simply enjoy the music as it comes.
I am incredibly impressed by the ensemble’s ability not only to convey a sense of lightness and joy, but also to explore more serious and meaningful tones, sometimes jumping from one to the other, bar by bar. One part of the performance was especially moving: a bass solo that was so tender and grounding, it felt like I could breathe in the waves of sound. The solo was intricate and smooth, and the warm timbre of the bass went straight to my chest. Each note Dyring played was vital to the ethereal impression conveyed. A tender yet powerful crescendo of textured sound rose into the air and filled the space with warmth. Gently, Neto came in on the piano, gradually adding a lightness to the richness of the bass. Neto’s entrance was like a warm embrace, both celebrating and comforting the tenderness Dyring conveyed through the solo.
The musical language of Jovino Santos Neto Quinteto is complex and difficult to decipher, though the essence of the music can be instinctively understood by anyone, no matter your musical knowledge. However, the real magic in their music comes from their personable performances. The five artists at Town Hall had incredible musicianship and displayed a carefree, yet meaningful air through their playing that made for a night to remember.
Jovino Santos Neto Quinteto took place at Town Hall Seattle on December 3, 2022. For more information see here.