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With a Touch of Brazil : Marcos Ariel, a musician from Rio de Janeiro, blends his native country's folkloric sounds with American jazz.

July 02, 1993|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Zan Stewart writes regularly about jazz for The Times

"Music is food for the soul," says Marcos Ari el, the key boardist and composer from Rio de Janeiro. "We need it every day, just like food. Music is the sense of the life, of the spirit."

Music definitely feeds Ariel, 38, who lives in Sherman Oaks and plays there tonight at the Room Upstairs at Le Cafe.

"I have to be around the piano every day," he said in a thick Portuguese accent. "I feel comfortable there. I play four or five hours a day, everything from classical to Brazilian to jazz. I am learning about jazz."

Ariel, who first came to the United States in 1988, writes and performs arresting, rhythmic pieces that blend the musical realms of Brazilian folkloric music with American jazz.

These pieces are often constructed in the style of such Brazilian forms as the choro-- a music described in Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha's classic text, "The Brazilian Sound," as "an instrumental genre of music that features . . . melodic leaps and improvisation." Ariel also offers sambas, the most popular form of Brazilian dance music, and baiaos, a song form from northeastern Brazil that emphasizes syncopation and jazz-like harmony.

At Le Cafe, where he will appear with sax man Justo Almario, singer and keyboardist Bill Cantos, drummer Ron Wagner and bassist Randy Tico, Ariel says he will also play some salsa tunes. But, he added with a laugh, "My salsa is with Brazilian sauce. Whatever I play is Brazilian. That's the way I write my songs."

Ariel estimated he has written 200 pieces since he started composing at age 16. "At first, I would just start to play something and think, 'Oh, this is beautiful,' and write it down. Things just came, and I didn't think about it, just used my intuition. Now sometimes I hear an idea, and a year later, I'll conclude the song. Or sometimes the whole thing comes right away."

Almario, who is featured on Ariel's latest album, "Hand Dance" on Nova Records, has proved a marvelous foil for the keyboardist. "He plays my music as if he wrote it, with exactly the feeling that I had thought about," said Ariel, who met the saxophonist in 1989 at the Baked Potato nightclub in North Hollywood. "When we play together, it's like one instrument."

The horn man, who included Ariel's tune, "Rhapsody in Rio," on his recent "Heritage" Mesa/Bluemoon release, is equally laudatory about the pianist. "He's not trying to play Brazilian fusion or Hollywood samba. Marcos concentrates on the folkloric music of Brazil," Almario said. "It's very challenging and delightful."

As a youth, Ariel grew up playing the classical regimen. But he discovered when he was 17 or 18, after hearing American jazzmen Dave Brubeck and Lennie Tristano, that his life would not be spent on the concert stage.

"I love classical music and still play it," said Ariel, who lists Bach's "Goldberg Variations" and Mozart's Piano Sonata in B flat as favorite pieces. "But I'm not the kind of guy to be a classical musician because it's the feeling, the passion that I discovered in jazz and Brazilian music. That music is more natural for me. Though not easier."

Ariel said Tristano and Brubeck changed his way of seeing music and opened the door to improvisation. And pianist Chick Corea and the eclectic Brazilian musician Hermeto Pascoal made him start thinking about forming a band and performing his own music, he added. In 1979, Ariel recorded his first album, "Bambu."

The musician first came to Los Angeles in late 1988 to promote what was then his fifth album, "Terra do Indio," which was being released on WEA Latina. He soon found that he had a second home in Southern California, and things started to happen for him.

"I got a piano endorsement from Kawai, who gave me a couple of instruments, and then I got another record deal with Nova Records," Ariel said. "And I felt comfortable. People were friendly; there were a lot of musicians; everything was familiar. And I learned fast how to drive. In two weeks I was driving everywhere."


What: Marcos Ariel at the Room Upstairs at Le Cafe, 14633 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

When: 9 and 11 tonight.

Cost: $8 cover, two-drink minimum.

Call: (818) 986-2662.

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