Fernando González on Carlos Malta and Pife Muderno / Nicolas
Krassik and Cordestinos
Living traditions are renewed by various means. It might be a
technological development, perhaps some social and economic
changes, or maybe the appearance of some extraordinary figure than
jolts the old ways forward.
Such are the cases of Brazilian reedman Carlos Malta, a master of
the flute family, and French-born violinist Nicolas Krassik. Both
found their voices working with Brazilian music traditions after
traveling circuitous paths. Malta, a self-taught player, served an
apprenticeship with brilliant multi-instrumentalist, composer, and
bandleader Hermeto Pascoal—one of the most creative and adventurous
figures in Brazilian music. The classically trained Krassik
explored jazz, working with figures such as the late pianist Michel
Petrucciani and violinist Didier Lockwood, before following his
love for Brazilian music all the way to Rio de Janeiro in
Malta's Pife Muderno ("modern fife") updates the banda de
pífanos, a popular tradition in Brazil's Northeast. Malta was
intrigued when he heard the Banda de Pífanos de Caruaru in a
recording by Brazilian singer and songwriter Gilberto Gil. Malta
was 12—and he was hooked.
"I was just beginning to play flute at the time and my references
were from rock 'n' roll—Jethro Tull or Thijs Van Leer from [Dutch
rock group] Focus," recalls Malta in conversation from Rio. "And I
knew refined flutists like Altamiro Carrilho, Copinha [Nicolino
Cópia] or Hermeto Pascoal. But the tocadores de
pífano ("fife players") were at the root of the Brazilian
From 1981 to 1993, Malta played a dazzling array of flutes and
saxophones in Pascoal's explosive avant-pop-jazz ensemble. Then, in
1994, Malta formed Pife Muderno. The group featured two fife and
flute players and three percussionists on handheld instruments. It
was "a statement," he says. "It was a return to simple melodies—a
different challenge. For 12 years, I had been playing the most
intriguing, most difficult melodies on all the instruments I know.
The challenge for me was to go back to simplicity and make
sophisticated music through the way we played, not the
compositions. We don't play bebop or jazz, but we improvise. We
play tribal melodies. We take a child's approach. We have fun and
want the audience to have fun. "
But even that is only part of the story. To make his point, Malta
recalls how a group of rockers that heard the band stopped by the
dressing room after the show. "And I remember one of them saying
'Man, this is the first time I've seen a rock 'n' roll group
without a guitar, a bass, or set of drums,'" recalls Malta with a
chuckle. "And I know what he meant. It's the spirit."
Meanwhile, Krassik was a jazzman on stage, "but at home, I just
listened to MPB," writes the violinist from his home in Rio, citing
the Portuguese acronym for Brazilian popular music. "I just fell in
love with it and started looking for Brazilian places to listen to
music and dance. That's also how I found capoeira, the
Brazilian martial art I practiced for five years."
Krassik started by playing choro—a fast, bright, urban style that
features improvisation—and samba. ("Knowing how to improvise was
very helpful," he notes.) But he became especially interested in
forró—the festive, traditional style from Brazil's
Northeast that he will be playing tonight.
Since the night he arrived—just in time for a choro
festival—Krassik impressed his Brazilian colleagues with his
technique, swing, and understanding of Brazilian music. He has
since collaborated with both established figures and members of a
younger generation of Brazilian musicians.
"He started to create a violin school that had never existed in
Brazil," says virtuoso guitarist Yamandú Costa in a video featured
on Krassik's website. "He managed to make [Brazilian] music part of
his soul." His arrival, says Costa, "is a gift for Brazilian
music." In the same video, singer-songwriter Beth Carvalho—a
historic, essential sambista—introduces Krassik as
"the most Brazilian Frenchman I've ever met."
Krassik notes that he was "very influenced by the mandolin and the
accordion. The mandolin has the same tuning as the violin, and the
accordion is very important in forró. The discovery of the
rabeca—a violin from the Northeast, more rustic, less
perfect—was also very important to me."
He says Malta and Pife Muderno were "an inspiration" in organizing
a group that blends tradition and modernity. Krassik's own
Cordestinos features violin, rabeca, bass, and two
"There is not much violin tradition [in forró], but there
is more of it with the rabeca," he explains. "Playing
rabeca helped me a lot to get the swing of
forró. But the way we play is a little different; we have
influences from jazz, rock, and many other genres. We improvise a
lot. Our music is not very traditional."
Yet the tradition continues to live and evolve—a reason why Krassik
has been called "another contributor in the renovation of the
genres" (O Globo, Rio).
—Fernando González is an independent music writer and critic whose
work appears regularly in The Miami Herald, JazzTimes, and
The International Review of Music.