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Alex Malheiros

Alex Malheiros is best known as bassist and guitarist with Brazil's iconic electric jazz trio Azymuth. His trademark bumping bass technique, as evidenced on albums such as 1975's Azimüth and 1977's Light as a Feather, is referenced by music historians as a primary influence on jazz-fusion. 1980's Outubro and 1982's Telecommunication and Cascades showcased his influential work during the post-disco and smooth jazz eras. Malheiros has amassed hundreds of credits as a sideman, composer, arranger, and producer. Apart from Azymuth, he has collaborated with dozens of artists in the studio including Milton Nascimento, Marcos Valle, Erasmo Carlos, Mark Murphy, Ithamara Koorax, and his daughter, singer/songwriter Sabrina Malheiros, to name a few. As a touring musician, his employers include Stevie Wonder and Chick Corea. Malheiros has released solo projects intermittently, beginning with 1985's Atlantic Forest and continuing with 1992's Zenith, 2007's The Wave, 2020's digital-only Teatro Dos Sons, and 2021's Tempos Futuros. Malheiros was born in the Niterói neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil into a family of musicians. His birth name is José Alexandre Malheiros Filho. He began his musical studies playing drums while in elementary school, but soon followed in the footsteps of his father and his uncle and switched to the bass; he also began playing acoustic guitar. Encouraged by his family, Malheiros began working as a professional musician right out of high school, forming local bands and playing gigs in clubs. Before forming, Azymuth's members were all scuffling session players during the '60s in Rio's bossa nova and jazz scenes. They all lived in the same bohemian block in Copacabana and played in small bars as sessionmen. Keyboardist/composer José Roberto Bertrami, the most experienced member, already had his own record contract. Wowed by Conti's live drumming, Bertrami recruited him to start a band. While hanging out at a local bowling alley-cum-nightclub, the pair heard the slippery, funky electric bass playing of Malheiros and approached him. Their first work together was a self-titled set, Projeto III, in 1968. They followed it with Encontro in 1970. They became firmly acquainted with one another as musicians during long gigs at the Canecão show bar in Rio during the early '70s, and formed a collective called Grupo Seleção for club gigs and session work. Marcos Valle invited them to back him on a Cruzeiro airlines promotional soundtrack titled Fly Cruzeiro in 1971, and on the soundtrack LP O Fabuloso Fittipaldi, a tribute to Brazilian Formula 1 race car driver Emerson Fittipaldi. Meanwhile, Malheiros was also busy doing session work for Ana Mazzotti and Sérgio Sampaio, and was in Vila Sésamo's house band (the Brazilian version of Sesame Street). After Grupo Seleção's collective successes in Brazil, the trio asked Valle if they could use the name of one his songs ("Azimuth") as their band name. He assented. Their musical output in the early '70s was recorded at Bertrami's flat and has since been documented on the two volumes of Demos 1973-75. Their first recording under their new name was a self-titled EP for Polydor in 1975; it was so attractive that the producers of a popular telenovela in Rio licensed it. Their self-titled LP for the Som Livre label followed, netting three hit singles: "Linha de Horizonte" (also used in a telenovela), "Manha" (a longtime standard on the London club scene), and "Faca de Conta." The trio became a popular live attraction in clubs and at festivals as Brazilian radio spun their singles. In 1977 they issued the one-off Águia Não Come Mosca before signing to the U.S's Milestone label for their 1979 commercial breakthrough, Light as a Feather. One of the best-selling Brazilian albums that year, it also made the U.S. album charts. Its global disco/fusion hit single "Jazz Carnival" sold more than half-a-million copies internationally and remained in the U.K. Top 20 for eight weeks. After releasing 1982's Telecommunication (a Top Ten album hit in the U.S as well as in England and Brazil), they became the first musicians to perform on electronic instruments inside the Teatro Municipal de São Paulo. Azymuth remained with Milestone in the U.S. for the rest of the decade. Meanwhile, Malheiros was busy playing with extracurricular work. In 1981 he guested on Traffic drummer Jim Capaldi's Let the Thunder Cry, as well as holding down the bass chair on Erasmo Carlos's Mulher and Amar Pra Viver, Ou Morrer De Amor, and Yana Purim's (Flora Purim's sister) self-titled debut the following year. Between 1983 and 1985, Azymuth was on fire. They not only toured the globe almost constantly, they managed to issue three hit long-players including the influential Rapid Transit, Flame, and Spectrum. In his rare off hours, Malheiros recorded his debut solo album, and in 1985, those sessions were released by Milestone as Atlantic Forest. While Conti guested on several tracks, other Brazilian session aces such as keyboardist Marcos Resende contributed to the set. A critical if not a commercial success, the album did help spread Malheiros' reputation as a truly funky, innovative bassist. In 1986, Azymuth served in American jazz singer Mark Murphy's band on the acclaimed Night Mood, with assistance from alto saxophonist Frank Morgan and trumpeter Claudio Roditi. In 1989, after releasing Carioca, Bertrami left Azymuth to pursue a solo career. Conti and Malheiros kept the group going, and hired keyboardist Jota Moraes to replace him. After leaving Milestone, they were without a proper home for a few years but managed to record 1990's Curumim and 1991's Volta á Turma for independent labels. In 1992, Malheiros cut his sophomore solo outing. Titled Zenith and released on the independent Niterói Discos, it offered six new originals by the bassist and included Bertrami's keyboards on half the album's tracks, along with the first recorded vocals by daughter Sabrina Malheiros. In 1995, Bertrami returned to Azymuth, reuniting its original formation. They signed to London's Far Out Recordings and issued their label debut, Carnival, that year. Azymuth toured Brazil, South America, Europe, and Asia for several years. When they finally re-entered the studio for 1998's Woodland Warrior, they remained in Brazil, and followed it in 1999 with Pieces of Ipanema. Malheiros was branching out as a session bassist again during this time. He guested on Marvio Ciribelli's Nazareth Na Confraria in 1998 and, with Azymuth, guested on Brazilian jazz singer Ithamara Koorax's Milestone debut, 2000's Serenade in Blue. In 2001, Malheiros played bass in the all-star ensemble that appeared on Valle's Escape on Far Out. (Conti also contributed drums to two tracks.) In addition to Azymuth's Partido Novo in 2002, Malheiros contributed to the United Future Organization's V, as well as to Koorax's Love Dance: The Ballad Album and Valle's Contrasts, both in 2003. Azymuth began touring intensely again. They issued the club smash Brazilian Soul in 2004. After returning from the supporting tour, Malheiros entered the studio with Conti and a host of top-shelf talent including Leo Gandleman and Jean-Louis "Bluey" Maunick to play sessions for Sabrina Malheiros' debut album Equilibria in 2005. He also played with her on tour. The following year, Malheiros worked with Koorax again on her illustrious Brazilian Butterfly long-player, as well as on Sabrina's sophomore outing, Vibrasons, a remix album with live instrumentation by players who included Bluey and Daniel Maunick, Nicola Conte, and Kiko Continentino. Between 2006 and 2008, Malheiros and Azymuth backed Arthur Verocai on Encore, worked with Antonio Adolfo on Destiny, appeared on Jazzanova's Of All the Things, and recorded and released their own long-player, Butterfly. They played festivals across Europe that summer. In 2009, Malheiros released The Wave on Far Out; the players were billed as "Alex Malheiros & Banda Utopia feat. Sabrina Malheiros". Comprised of all originals by the bassist, it was produced by Daniel Maunick and featured a septet of younger, exceptionally capable players. The set's final track, "Una Esta," was remixed by IG Culture. That same year, Azymuth backed Valle and Celso Fonseca on Apresentam Página Central, and Italian Paolo Andriolo on his long-player Rio Funk. In 2011, Malheiros composed for and played on Sabrina's globally acclaimed Dreaming. Later that year, Azymuth released Aurora, as well as several remix 12"s; these marked the final work by the original band -- Bertrami passed away in July of 2012 at the age of 66. When the band returned with 2016's acclaimed Fenix, it was with longtime associate Kiko Continentino on keyboards. They toured Brazil and England in support over the next year-and-a-half. In the interim, Azymuth backed Valle on 2019's Sempre while Malheiros played on Conti's solo album Poison Fruit in 2019. Just before the pandemic hit in early 2020, Azymuth entered an L.A. studio with Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad to cut Jazz Is Dead 4. That year Malheiros issued the completely solo, digital-only release Teatros Dos Sons to streaming. He played bass, guitars, keyboards, sampling, all the percussion instruments, and horn sounds. In 2021, Malheiros played bass with Netherlands' jazz-funk ensemble Jazzinvaders on their Last Summer in Rio album, and released his own Tempos Futuros. Produced by Maunick, the set included Sabrina on vocals, percussionist Sidinho Moreira, London-based saxophonist Sean Khan, drummers Massa and Victor Bertrami, and keyboardist Dudu Viana. The title track was originally recorded as a demo in 1995; Malheiros used his late bandmate José Roberto Bertrami's original Fender Rhodes take on the finished version.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo
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