Alex Malheiros: bass
Ivan 'Mamao' conti: drums
Fernando Moraes: keyboards
Azymuth started their individual careers in the 1960s in the emergent bossa nova and jazz scene of Rio, living in the same bohemian block in Copacabana and playing in small bars as session musicians. Keys player and bandleader Bertrami had noticed how great Ivan Conti 'Mamao' was as a drummer, and how fantastic Alex Malheiros was with his new electric bass, and invited them to record with him: their first piece of work together was under the name Group Projeto 3 in 1968.
It was the early 1970s before they really began to cause a stir. 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 the success of the record in Brazil they asked Marcos if they could use the name of one of the tracks (‘Azimuth’) from the EP as their name and the rest is history! Their musical output was enormous at this point in the early 70s – Bertrami’s flat in Laranjeiros was the centre of a cottage industry producing astonishing, ahead-of-its-time music. Far Out’s Joe Davis, who has heard some of this material, describes one demo from the early 70s as “wild, abstract stuff, unlike anything around at that time”. Their first recording under the new name was a four track EP with Polydor, which was used in a popular novella (soap opera) – in Brazil, this is pretty much a guarantee of success for a record. From this followed their first LP with the Som Livre label and ‘Linda De Horizonte’ (used in another novella). This LP featured classics like ‘Manha’ (a standard on the London club scene) and ‘Faca De Conta’. The unique Azymuth sound was born.
The second album ‘Agua Nao Come Mosca’ was an even bigger success. It was also released in the USA and Japan on Atlantic Records, bringing international attention. This LP led to a deal with the American jazz label Milestone Records. In 1979 their first Milestone release, ‘Light As A Feather’ became one of the best-selling LPs of the year. It featured the worldwide disco/fusion hit single ‘Jazz Carnival’, which sold more than half a million copies internationally, and stayed in the UK Top 20 for eight weeks. Azymuth went on to record a string of albums on Milestone in the mid-80s, including the cult classic ‘Outubro’ which Far Out Recordings will reissue in June 2016. Over this period of time Azymuth established themselves as one the world’s great jazz bands, playing in the Monterrey and Montreux jazz festivals and venues around the globe, and working with legendary musicians from Chick Corea, Joe Henderson, George Duke and Stevie Wonder. This worldwide notoriety was something of a surprise to the band – they were the same streetwise Rio boys playing their own music, which they still thought of as MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira) with a touch of jazz. In 1983 Azymuth were at their peak, and the three members had all started solo careers. However, the trio’s burgeoning solo commitments became a heavy burden – by 1987, Azymuth had split.
Far Out’s Joe Davis first met Azymuth at the studio on a recording session for the Friends From Rio project in 1995 – they had been invited to play by Joe’s Brazilian producer. Joe might have been forgiven for being a little star struck – Azymuth had been his musical heroes for 15 years. They met again soon afterwards, at a dinner party at the same producer’s house in Santa Tereza on the very edge of one of Rio’s many favelas. The party quickly confirmed the Azymuth boys’ legendary appetites for debauchery and revelry – they had left their surprisingly reserved, professional demeanour in the studio the week before.
In the mid 90s Azymuth were still seen as rather maverick and aloof by the rest of the Brazilian music industry – their countrymen were almost afraid to deal with them, given the influence and reputation they had built up in the 70s & 80s. They were content to play as session men for a series of visiting producers (the latest being Joe Davis), effectively opting out of the mainstream industry. Joe though came with a missionary, fan’s zeal: he was determined to convince them to record for his label. He managed to convince them of their international importance beyond the insular Rio studio scene, and finally to record new albums on Far Out. Joe wanted to recreate that classic sound and vibe of the 70s and early 80s – records he’d been buying for years.
Back in the studio, their spontaneity shocked Joe – he hadn’t been used to working with artists like this before. Their records really were (and still are) made on the spur of the moment – “when they’re ready to go, they go” as Joe puts it. They are quite capable of banging out three new tracks that will find their way on to the next album in an hour, even after several hours unproductive pontification. In 1996 the resulting album ‘Carnival’ was released to critical acclaim – a welcome return to the band’s creative best.
Since then Azymuth have recorded eight new studio albums for Far Out: ‘Woodland Warrior’ (1998), ‘Pieces of Ipanema’ (1999), ‘Before we Forget’ (2000), ‘Partido Novo’ (2003) ‘Brazilian Soul’ (2004) ‘Butterfly’ (2008) and ‘Aurora’ (2011). They’ve also been remixed by some of the finest remixers in the world including Theo Parrish, Mark Pritchard, 4hero, Peanut Butter Wolf, Kirk Degiorgio, Paul White, Zed Bias, Mark E, Yam Who, Ashley Beedle, Jazzanova, Mr Beatnick, London Elektricity and Roni Size.
Always pushing forward, the band's latest album Fênix was released in 2016 to critical acclaim, with Bertrami’s replacement on keys and piano Kiko Continentino, an incredibly skilled pianist, composer and arranger who, having worked with Brazilian legends such as Milton Nascimento and Gilberto Gil, is a musician certainly worthy of taking to both the studio and stage alongside Azymuth’s esteemed original members.