Mario Bakuna Band.  3rd February 2023.

Mario Bakuna, acoustic guitar, vocals and mouth trumpet.
Felippe Oliveira, electric guitar.
Adriano Gaeta, bass.
Uccio Gaeta, drums.

Brazilian music is a continent, or possibly a planet unto itself. Countless influences converge, are absorbed, hybridized and then shared with the world, generating creative energy, new variations on old forms and enlarging the world of music we thought we already knew so well. So many of us weren’t surprised to be surprised, but were any of us prepared to be amazed and thrilled throughout these two sets? After all, it was ‘only’ two guitars, bass and drums…

This is a superb band, but we must begin with Mario Bakuna, a man who exudes music. He did sing several lyrics, but ‘vocals’ doesn’t begin to do him justice: his expressive range and the precision with which he was able to deploy it was truly the band’s fifth instrument.  If ‘mouth trumpet’ seems a bit unlikely, then all that can be said is that hearing is believing—and more striking was his ability, somehow, to make his voice sound like a wah-wah guitar. In between, there was falsetto singing and vocalisms that made more familiar varieties of jazz scat singing seem rather tame—especially when he had an extended exchange with drummer Uccio Gaeta.   And he did this while playing guitar with precision and finesse. He never comped: his rhythmic leads, however complex, were always cleanly voiced. That would surely have sufficed, but his solos were a further source of amazement, his technique somewhere between finger-picking style and classical. His solo introduction to a Baden Powell number made a hash of any attempt at a definition.

Felippe Oliveira’s role was not confined to soloing, since his playing also acted to shape the melody, often complementing Mario’s trumpet simulations, harmonically and melodically—sometimes both in the same number. The verve was there in abundance for the fast-paced numbers, but there was also plenty of room for his sweetly expressed melodic ideas, too.

No one in this band could coast along comfortably because the music was demanding—and Adriano Gaeta was on hand to ensure that the proceedings were well grounded. He too is a fine soloist, but his musicality seemed best expressed in the duet exchanges he had, in which he displayed exquisite timing and judgment.

 Uccio Gaeta’s drumming was a marvel, characterised not by his ferocious energy (considerable though it was), but by his sudden shifts and immaculate stops.  Not every drummer is a musician’s musician, but like his fellow band members, he is exceptional.

The added pleasure was that the band clearly enjoyed playing together. Clearly, a performance at this level wouldn’t be possible without well-honed expertise, extensive rehearsal and group coherence. Yet the evening had all of the excitement of something spontaneous; and regardless, it was wildly creative—a true tour de force.


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