JAZZ / DIRK SUTRO : Brazilian Music Is Back, and It's as Rio as It Gets

Brazilian music is sweeping the country again after a '60s bossa nova through America. Rock star David Byrne recently put together an album of his favorite Brazilian music, and Brazilian musicians, including many jazz players, are enjoying increased attention.

In San Diego, the jazz scene shows traces of this trend. Flutist Lori Bell's new album with pianist Dave Mackay is titled "Take Me to Brazil" and includes a tune by Brazilian legend Antonio Carlos Jobim among several Brazilian numbers.

Local guitarist Peter Sprague has always been drawn to the music of Brazil, and this is especially apparent in the gigs he plays with vocalist Kevyn Lettau, a longtime San Diegan now living in Los Angeles.

Of course Sprague likes Jobim, but he also enjoys tossing in a few more obscure Brazilian songs from artists such as Djavan and Ivan Lins.

Radio stations aren't missing the Brazilian wave. KIFM, for example, has been playing more and more Brazilian-influenced music by American artists such as Lee Ritenour and Manhattan Transfer, and by Brazilians Djavan, Lins, Ricardo Silveira and Kenia.

On weekends, things are jumping at the Copacabana on Pacific Highway, named for the white sand beach in Rio de Janeiro. The atmosphere is like one big party. People roam from level to level, and hundreds of festive flags line the walls. The throng, more than 500 strong on weekends, is a broad racial mix not found in many San Diego clubs, but there is no trace of tension. Jaime Moran, the conga player and headline attraction, is also the Copa's entertainment coordinator, and his personality seems to pervade the club.

Moran, who was born in Mazatlan and grew up in Tijuana, has a rich musical background. As unlikely as it seems, he once recorded with rock singer Joe Cocker but doesn't know whether his work ever made the final mix. Several of his songs have been recorded by major artists, including "Over the Sun" by Tony Bennett.

During an enthusiastic tour of the place, he stopped to peck women both young and middle-aged on the cheek and greeted several men with a hug or a handshake.

The low-ceilinged basement bar, with its murals of tropical scenes, thumping beat, and large dance floor, is popular with all ages, but especially the under-30s. Jack Costanza, who has played bongos behind Nat King Cole and Stan Kenton, pumps out rhythms that keep the five-piece band going, while his ex-wife, Gerrie Woo, a former pinup girl, belts out rock, pop, rhythm and blues and South American sounds including Brazilian.

Keyboardist Dario anchors the dimly lit second-level bar, specializing in Latin ballads in the room Copa owner Larry Barnes calls a "romantic little cove."

But it's the third level, Moran's room, where the energy peaks as he keeps things hopping with quick flourishes on timbales and congas and emotional vocals on Brazilian tunes from artists like Jobim and George Ben.

He mixes in Brazilian-influenced songs like "Astrud," a tribute to Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto by Polish singer Basia, and salsa standards like "Mango Mangue."

A keyboard player, either Ruben Soriano or Freddie Tatman (who used to play vibes with pianist George Shearing), provides the music, a range of synthesized sounds anchored by Moran's percussion work and a drum machine he programs before each song. The blend is a surprisingly full and spirited music which keeps the small dance floor full as Moran moves and grooves and shouts and whoops on stage.

"I try to learn as much as I can of Brazilian jazz," Moran said. "It's all called tropical music: Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama. I tell my keyboard player to put jazz into Latin songs so American people will identify with the harmonious melodies. If I play an American tune, I always put some Latin flavor in."

The Copa (2888 Pacific Highway) has a $3 cover charge. Moran plays Tuesday through Saturday nights from 7 until 1 or later. Come June, the entertainment heats up a notch with the return of Schola Sol Emar, a Brazilian revue complete with dancing girls.

In some instances, musicians are beyond words. At least that's what guitarist Sprague and local bass player Kevin Hennesey found recently during a 2 1/2-week stay in Buenos Aires as part of a cultural exchange program called The Partners of the Americas. Sprague said he had no problem getting musical ideas across in several workshops. He simply demonstrated them. "They love jazz down there," he said. "They'll probably send a couple of their best students to visit San Diego or Los Angeles."

Responding to pressure from the local jazz community, KIFM (98.1) will add a regular Sunday night show in May devoted entirely to mainstream jazz, as opposed to the lighter, more commercially successful brand that takes up most of the time on both KIFM and The Wave (KSWV-FM, 102.9). "San Diego Jazz Spotlight," the existing local music show, moves from 10 to 8, with the new show, hosted by Steve Huntington, running from 9:30 to midnight.

KSWV's May 3 "Nite Trax" broadcast from the Catamaran will feature the L.A. band Windows. Their new album is called "The French Laundry," and the single by the same name is getting local airplay, with vocals by band member Skipper Wise and rock singer Al ("Year of the Cat") Stewart. Local pianist Peter Robberecht will open the show.

Trombonist Rob McConnell, a top arranger and studio player also well-known as a teacher of jazz, joins the San Diego State University Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Bill Yeager at its show at 7 p.m. Sunday in the Smith Recital Hall.

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