Few musicians can be credited with creating their own genre but that’s precisely what Scott Feiner has done with his Pandeiro Jazz project. Upon the release of Feiner’s first album in 2006 the celebrated pianist Brad Melhdau wrote, "Scott Feiner has created a unique sonic world … full of subtlety and surprise."
A View From Below, his fourth album, marks an exciting turning point for Feiner, as it’s the first recording solely featuring his engaging original compositions. It’s also a stylistic departure due to the unique format featuring pandeiro, guitar and keyboards - a surprising new take on the concept of a “power trio.” Feiner’s previous three albums were more acoustic in nature.
The Brazilian pandeiro is a hand drum that looks like a tambourine, but has a much wider range of sounds – imagine a handheld drum set. The low bass tones you hear on the recording are coming from this small drum.
Feiner is joined by two Brazilian musicians on A View From Below: pianist Rafael Vernet on vintage Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer keyboards, and guitarist Guilherme Monteiro. Vernet, who is based in Rio de Janeiro, has performed and/or recorded with artists such Brazilian greats as Hermeto Pascoal, Toninho Horta and Joyce. Monteiro, who has worked with Ron Carter, Luciana Souza, Eliane Elias, and Anat Cohen, has been based in New York City for many years, and is also a founding member of the group Forró in the Dark.
It’s easy to assume that a trio consisting of two Brazilians musicians, with a pandeiro as the sole percussion instrument, would be playing “Brazilian Jazz,” but that’s not the case here. The variety in Feiner’s compositions on A View From Below, as well as his unique approach to the pandeiro, result in something that cannot be so easily labeled. As the legendary Brazilian singer-composer Joyce stated after performing with him: “Scott Feiner isn’t just another gringo who plays pandeiro. He’s the inventor of a mixed language that’s completely his own.”
The use of actual Brazilian rhythms on A View From Below can only be found on two of the tracks: the baião on “O Forno” (The Oven) and ijexá on the B-section of “Fonte” (Source). From there, anything goes. Feiner’s use of odd-time rhythms can be heard on the title track as well as on “Jasmine.” “Raízes” (Roots), which starts off with a pandeiro intro that showcases the impressive dynamic range of this 10” drum, uses a Brazilian-inspired groove that Feiner devised, followed by a “four on the floor” backbeat, and eventually settling on a shuffle. Other examples of funk or rock grooves can be heard on parts of “Mother Nature” and “The Visitor”. “Mother Nature” also features some salsa-influenced sections, while “Sienna” is based on a 6/8 pattern with a medium-up jazz-waltz approach.
Feiner’s compositions tend to have simple, memorable melodies, and strong rhythmic statements that result in a sort of “signature sound.” But for sure, certain influences can be heard, such as touches of Steely Dan on “Raízes,” and the B-section of “Raro Momento,” while the A-section of the latter has elements reminiscent of Charles Mingus and Weather Report. On certain tunes the trio has even been likened to intelligent jam bands à la Medeski, Martin & Wood and John Scofield’s Überjam Band.
As there is no bassist in this trio, Vernet is responsible for the bass lines, similar to a Hammond B3 player in an organ trio, and he’s as comfortable on funk and odd-time grooves as he is with Brazilian rhythms. In Feiner’s own words, “Rafael is a powerhouse.” Monteiro’s guitar playing is an eclectic mixture of influences, but the end result is highly personal. Feiner highlights Monteiro’s solos on “Raízes” and “The Visitor” as being “extremely engaging and well developed.”
Scott Feiner has walked a fascinating road from the jazz world of Manhattan to the nightlife of Rio de Janeiro. A native of New York City, Feiner received a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies/Guitar at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, Connecticut, where he studied with the legendary saxophonist Jackie McLean. After graduating in 1990 he returned to New York and immersed himself in the jazz scene, quickly becoming known as a lyrical and swinging guitarist. During the early ‘90s Feiner led bands two nights a week at Augie’s (now Smoke), the world-renowned club in Manhattan known as a meeting place for New York City’s best young jazz musicians.
In 1999, during his first trip to Brazil, Feiner discovered the pandeiro, the instrument that would become his new means of musical expression. He moved to Rio in 2001 to be closer to the pandeiro and to Brazilian music in general.
Feiner’s debut album Pandeiro Jazz (2006, Delira Música) was the first jazz recording ever made with a pandeiro as the exclusive percussion instrument. It featured Feiner on pandeiro, with Joel Frahm (saxophones), Freddie Bryant (guitars), and Joe Martin (bass). The Italian percussion magazine Percussioni called it “A landmark for others to follow.”
In 2008, after the success of Pandeiro Jazz, Feiner recorded Dois Mundos for the renowned Brazilian label Biscoito Fino. It was nominated for a 2009 Latin Grammy Award and was cited as one of the best albums of the year by Brazilian Playboy. Dois Mundos featured some of Brazil’s finest musicians: Jessé Sadoc (trumpet), Marcelo Martins (saxophone), David Feldman (piano) and Alberto Continentino (bass).
In 2010, the New York-based label Zoho Music released Feiner’s third album, Accents. It reunited him with Frahm, Bryant, and Martin again and in its review of the album, Jazztimes magazine wrote, “Feiner couldn’t have made better picks, as the quartet is fully in sync from the get-go.”
Feiner has performed extensively at festivals in Brazil and at such European festivals as Pori in Finland. He has also appeared at many of New York’s top jazz clubs, including Jazz Standard. Besides his regular working groups, Feiner has played with many other stellar instrumentalists from New York and Brazil, including Mark Turner, Seamus Blake, Chico Pinheiro, Hamilton de Holanda, Gabriel Grossi and Helio Alves.