Eric Stein’s role as the artistic director of the Ashkenaz Festival may have somewhat eclipsed his profile as a working musician, but away from his festival duties, Stein, a mandolin player, performs with two very different bands – Beyond the Pale and Tio Chorinho.
The only band in Canada dedicated to playing choro, Tio Chorinho is celebrating the release of its debut CD early in December at a Toronto venue. Choro music, a fusion of popular and classical European styles with Afro-Brazilian rhythms, has been described, in American terms, as the New Orleans jazz of Brazil.
It’s the foundation of several modern Brazilian styles, including the samba. New Orleans jazz was the jumping off point for all sorts of musical mutations, and choro has served a similar role in Brazilian music, Stein said. You won’t be able to resist tapping your toes to choro, as it’s accessible and exciting rhythmically and melodically, but it is listening music.
Traditionally Brazilians socialized in cafes and restaurants while musicians played choro, which functioned as a social lightning rod to bring people together around it, Stein said. Later in its development, choro became concert music.
“It’s not sit-on-your hands music and be super quiet. You can socialize,” Stein said. But he stressed that choro is “very, very deep and at times complex,” and demands more of a listener than “elevator” music.
Choro has experienced a revival in Brazil in recent years, similar to the klezmer revival, Stein said.
“Younger people are seeking out the older guard of musicians who are part of the classic period of the music in the 1950s and ’60s. That phenomenon is familiar to me from my experience with Jewish music because that’s what a lot of people did to rescue klezmer music from a period where it had disappeared,” he said.
Tio Chorinho, a five-piece band formed in 2009, emerged out of Stein’s interest in playing choro, which grew out of his listening to old choro recordings, particularly the music of the Brazilian Jewish mandolinist and composer, Jacob do Bandolim.
“As a mandolin player myself, hearing the stuff, I was just drawn to it,” said Stein, whose first instrument was the bass guitar. While performing at a klezmer music festival in Sao Paulo in 2010, Stein said he looked for choro musicians he could learn from. Since then, he’s returned to Sao Paul to study with choro musicians and always timed his trip with the klezmer festival there.
“In a strange way, my journey into choro has always been in step with my continuing work in the Jewish music scene. They’re ostensibly not related, but the relationship feels very intimate within me.”
Speaking about the similarities between choro and Jewish music, he said, “I think a lot of them are accidental, but spiritually from the same place. I find that a lot of the musical vocabulary, a lot of the techniques I use when I’m playing Jewish music translate really well to playing choro music.”
Tio Chorinho’s debut recording, Chora Brazil, has been available on its website since this past June. Do Bandolim’s compositions, including his masterpieces Santa Morena, Vibracoes (Vibrations) and Receita De Samba (Samba Recipe), make up half of the CD, along with tunes by other composers of the genre – Ernesto Nazareth, Pixinguinha and Waldir Azevedo.
The recording has been nominated for two Canadian Folk Music Awards – for world music album of the year and instrumental album of the year – with the winners to be announced on Dec. 3, the day before the band’s CD is launched, Dec. 4 at 5 p.m. at the culture hub Geary Lane, 360 Geary Lane. Admission is $10 or $25 with a CD purchase. Along with Stein, the band features Carlos Cardozo on cavaquinho (a small stringed instrument in the guitar family), Maninho Costa on percussion, Andre Valerio on guitar and cavaquinho and Avital Zemer on seven-string guitar.