Internationally renowned for his innovative fusion of indigenous Brazilian and North American jazz rhythms—and especially for his work with singer-composer Milton Nascimento over the past 25 years—trap drum master Robertinho Silva displays his mastery of both genres on his new Milestone CD, Shot On Goal (Perigo de Gol).
Like his U.S. debut, Speak No Evil, which was released on Milestone last year, Shot On Goal is a rich, brilliantly conceived pastiche of musical styles held together by the leader’s consummate artistry; it is certain to expand the global following for Silva’s mesmerizing, genre-blending music. On the new album, Robertinho enjoys the support of frequent associates Mauro Senise (reeds), Túlio Mourão (keyboards), and Luiz Alves (bass), along with his hugely talented percussionist sons, Ronaldo and Vanderlei.
The range of composers represented in Shot On Goal says a lot about Robertinho’s musical proclivities: on the jazz side, there’s Wayne Shorter, to whose classic Native Dancer Robertinho contributed nearly 20 years ago, and Thelonious Monk, whose music, Silva feels, “has a great deal to do with Brazilian rhythms, especially samba.” Egberto Gismonti (“Cego Aderaldo”), Milton Nascimento (“Exits and Flags”), Túlio Mourão (“Cinema Aventura”), and José Roberto Bertrami (“Shot On Goal”) are noted for their Brazilian/jazz fusion: Fattoruso’s 1970s group Opa and Bertrami’s 1980s-period Azymuth were instrumental in cross-pollinating jazz, r&b, and funk with Brazilian samba, bossa nova, and even folclórico styles. Silva himself wrote several of the new album’s tracks: “Festa de Terreiro,” “Barra 200” (with drummer Nenê), and the djembe feature “Lunar” (with bassist Arismar do Espirito Santo).
Born in Rio de Janeiro on June 1, 1941, Silva grew up in the city’s financially impoverished, culturally rich Zona Norte. The district was a mecca for migrants from Brazil’s northern states, and Silva was drawn to the variety of rhythms that surrounded him, as well as to the Latin music he heard on the radio. He began by tapping out beats on a tiny wooden stool that his carpenter father had built; Silva found that its timbre was much like that of a bongo. The self-taught musician played pandeiro, triangle, bongos, and maracas in local dance bands before graduating to a trap set.
His early trap drum influences were Brazilians Edson Machado, Dom Um Romão, and Plínio. Through the radio, Silva also became aware of jazz musicians from the U.S. Drummer Art Blakey, he told fellow percussionist Frank Colón in an interview with Rhythm magazine, was “the first one to really grab my heart.” Tony Williams, whom Silva heard in Rio with the Miles Davis Quintet that also included Wayne Shorter, was another major influence. “When I first saw him play,” Silva said of Williams, “he made me stop and sit back and analyze the direction that I was going in. I realized that it was possible to be much more free in my approach. I mean, he really messed my head up.”
Silva made his recording debut in 1964 with vocalist Cauby Peixoto and soon became one of Rio’s first-call studio drummers, lending his riveting yet sensitive trap touch to hundreds of sessions. His discography includes dates with such Brazilian greats as Airto Moreira, Flora Purim, Wagner Tiso, Toninho Horta, Luiz Eça, José Roberto Bertrami, Dori Caymmi, Raul De Souza, Gilberto Gil, Mauro Senise, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, as well as every Nascimento album since 1969. Besides Shorter’s Native Dancer, Silva has played on discs by such U.S. jazz artists as Cal Tjader (the Fantasy album Amazonas, currently in the Original Jazz Classics series), Paul Horn, Sarah Vaughan, and George Duke.
It was at a 1969 recording session with Julio Barbosa that Silva first met Nascimento, who had booked a date at the same studio. Shortly thereafter, Silva, Wagner Tiso, and bassist Luiz Alves were hired as the nucleus of Nascimento’s group. The drummer has been with the band ever since, except for a two-year period during the mid-Seventies when he lived and recorded in Los Angeles.
In 1970, during a period when Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship, Silva, Tiso, and Alves also launched Som Imaginário, a fusion band that mixed Brazilian music with American and English rock. “We were definitely into breaking the boundaries of our culturally repressed society through our music,” the drummer said of the group.
Prior to Speak No Evil, Silva had recorded two other albums as a leader: Música Popular Brasileira Contemporânea for Philips in 1981 and Bateria in 1984 for Gismonti’s Carmo label; and Speak No Evil in 1989 for CBS in Brazil. Out on Milestone just last year, Speak No Evil was his first American release.
Lately Robertinho has been concentrating on his own band, Robertinho Silva e Família, which features, not surprisingly, his percussionist sons. Ronaldo, 30, and Vanderlei, 28, began working alongside Robertinho in Milton Nascimento’s rhythm section about eight years ago, and gained much valuable experience with the popular Brazilian singer/songwriter, recording and performing with him all over the world. Silva’s youngest son Thiago (who’s pictured in the booklet for Shot On Goal), has also made a few impromptu appearances onstage with the band, and according to his dad, the Silva dynasty will be in very capable hands. “Thiago is an excellent drummer,” says Robertinho, “and is also studying keyboards. He’s even a good singer!” (It’s all in the family: Thiago’s vocalist mother, Aleuda, was a percussionist with Hermeto Pascoal and Azymuth, recorded her own album for the Carmo label, and sang on one track of her husband’s Speak No Evil disc.)
“I consider my playing to be representative of Brazilian trap drumming,” he told Colón, “although it is, I think, very influenced by American jazz. However, it is definitely Brazilian. In style, it’s a mixture of the native rhythms of Brazil.... I mean, I don’t play this rhythm or that rhythm specifically, but within what I play, you can feel the different geographical ingredients which have blended together.”