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Azymuth is a globally renowned, highly influential Brazilian jazz-funk trio founded in the early 1970s. Not to be confused with the British group Azimuth, their breezy fusion of electric jazz, pop, MPB, samba, tropical disco, and electronic music has influenced three generations of musicians, DJs, and producers. The original trio of José Roberto Bertrami on acoustic piano and keyboards, Alex Malheiros on bass, and Ivan Conti on drums called their music "samba doido," which means "crazy samba." The actual sounds were not so crazy, but their intelligent, high-voltage blend of Brazilian rhythms, jazz, and funk -- with occasional acoustic episodes -- gained a sizable following in the '80s. In addition to a hefty catalog containing more than two-dozen albums, the trio has been remixed by a who's-who of 21st century DJs and producers including Theo Parrish, 4Hero, Kirk Degiorgio, Ashley Beedle, and Jazzanova. After Bertrami's death in 2012, Azymuth recruited keyboardist and composer Kiko Continentino. Beginning with their self-titled album on Som Livre, which netted the hit singles "Manha" and "Faca de Conta," their fully developed sound -- complete with tight charts, sensual textures, infectious rhythms, and intricate, gentle melodies combined with a love of technology -- registered with listeners. Light as a Feather, their 1979 breakthrough for the American Milestone label, netted the jazz-disco fusion hit single "Jazz Carnival." Azymuth went on to record a string of albums during the '80s, including Outubro, Telecommunication, and Rapid Transit. They became one of the world's great jazz bands, whose sound -- like peers Weather Report -- translated to dance club DJs. They split in 1990, reunited in 1995, and signed to the U.K.'s Far Out label, with Carnival appearing the following year. Azymuth have been with the label ever since, delivering a series of acclaimed albums including 2002's Partido Novo, 2008's Butterfly, and 2016's Fenix. They've also teamed with Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad to record 2020's Azymuth JID004, an installment in that duo's Jazz Is Dead series. Before coming together, the group's members all had individual careers during the '60s in Rio's emergent bossa nova and jazz scenes. They all lived in the same bohemian block in Copacabana and played in small bars as sessionmen. Bertrami was wowed by Conti's drumming and the slippery, funky manner with which Malheiros played electric bass. He invited them to record with him. Their first work together was under the name Group Projeto 3 in 1968. As players, they became firmly acquainted with one another in the Canecão showroom during the early '70s; forming a group called Grupo Seleção, they played in nightclubs and did session work for other artists. Marcos Valle invited them to record on a soundtrack LP in tribute to the great Brazilian Formula 1 racing driver Emerson Fittipaldi ("O Fabuloso Fittipaldi"). After their success in Brazil, the trio asked Valle if they could use the name of one his songs ("Azimuth") as their name. Their musical output in the early 70s, all recorded at Bertrami's flat, proved the center of a cottage industry producing astonishing, ahead-of-its-time music that has since been documented on two collections of early demos. Their first recording under their new name was an EP for Polydor; it was so attractive that the producers of a popular telenovela in Rio licensed it. Their self-titled LP (as Azimuth) for the Som Livre label followed, netting three hit singles: Linha de Horizonte" (also used in a telenovela), "Manha" (now a standard on the London club scene), and "Faca de Conta." It was on this first album that Azymuth's trademark sound was born. Their sophomore outing, 1977's Águia Não Come Mosca, was an international success. Issued simultaneously in Brazil, the U.S., and Japan on Atlantic Records, it led to a multi-album deal with Milestone. Light as a Feather, their 1979 Milestone debut, became one of the best-selling Brazilian albums of the year and made the album charts in the U.S. as well. It included the global disco/fusion hit "Jazz Carnival," which sold more than half-a-million copies internationally and remained in the U.K. Top 20 for eight weeks. In 1980, they issued the cult classic Outubro, and performed at jazz festivals around the world. In 1981, after releasing the futurist Telecommunication, Azymuth was the first group to perform with electronic instruments at the Teatro Municipal de São Paulo. The album landed inside the Top Ten on the Top 200. Over the next four years, Azymuth toured almost constantly; when they weren't, they were recording, resulting in a high-quality run of albums that included Cascades, Rapid Transit, Flame, and Spectrum. In 1986, the group made the cover of Down Beat, Modern Drums, and Guitar Player magazines. In 1989, Bertrami departed the group after they released Carioca. In the aftermath, keyboardist Jota Moraes replaced him until the original formation reunited in 1995 and issued Carnival a year later for Far Out, and the commemorative 21 Años compilation for Warner Brazil. By 1998, Azymuth were recording exclusively for Far Out, touring globally, and playing massive dance parties and raves across Europe and Asia. Their recordings firmly embraced advances in technology yet never sacrificed their sound, and DJs ate them up. 1998's Woodland Warrior drew rave reviews while the next year's Pieces of Ipanema had several of its tracks remixed by world-class DJs. Azymuth started the new century by releasing Before We Forget, followed by the wildly acclaimed Partido Novo in 2003 and Brazilian Soul in 2004 -- by which time the trio's music was welcomed back to regular rotation at Brazilian radio again -- and saw hundreds of thousands of revelers celebrate it in clubs internationally. 2008's Butterfly was, after Brazilian Soul, their best-selling album of the early aughts. 2011's Aurora proved their final outing with Bertrami, who passed away the next year. After much reflection -- and time spent playing together -- Malheiros and Conti recruited pianist, composer, and arranger Kiko Continentino, a veteran from Milton Nascimento's and Gilberto Gil's bands. In 2016, Azymuth issued Fenix, their debut with Continentino, to global acclaim. They followed it with a world tour. During the late spring of 2019, Far Out issued Demos 1973-75, Vols. 1 & 2. Music journalists across the spectrum from mainstream to marginal, celebrated these raw yet wildly imaginative and musically accomplished tracks that were a revelation of jazz, funk, and disco, with some even stating that the roots of EDM were on display in these early recordings. The album sold out of its initial pressing within weeks. Around the same time, Malheiros, Conti, and Continentino performed in Los Angeles and recorded with Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad at the former's L.A.-based Linear Labs Studio. The result, Azymuth JID004, was released in 2020, just after the third volume in Younge and Muhammad's Jazz Is Dead series, which featured Marcos Valle. Co-founder Ivan Conti died on April 17, 2023; he was 76 years of age.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo
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