Back in 2005, I had very little understanding of Brazilian music or its legends. The initial droplets of inspiration came via a borrowed record of Stan Getz’s “The Girl From Ipanema: The Bossa Nova Years.”
Immediately, I was fascinated by the rhythms, the inclusion of the vibraphone in an otherwise standard jazz trio, and the clever interweaving of sax and vocals from Astrid Gilberto. Her half-spoken singular tone seemed strangely approachable, and this sound of a foreign language fascinated me. “One Note Samba” swirled around in my ears….somehow the music transgressed the foreign nature of its nonsensical self (nonsensical to me as I didn’t understand a word). Yet still, I wanted deeply to understand what was behind these syllables. The entire record felt like a traveller’s cocktail of crushed velvet and coconuts. From that moment on, Brazilian music became a horizon line that I longed to navigate towards.
Shortly thereafter, a friend hipped me to a record by Caetano Veloso. I swooned over this man’s vocals on “Cucurucucu Paloma.” I studied every nuance of the guitar, closed my eyes to focus on his voice, and let myself be swept away by the arrangements of Jaques Morelenbaum. As I grew to know the songs note by note, instrument by instrument (the same way any aspiring musician listens to “Kind of Blue” for the first time), my mind was officially blown.
As time passed, I was gifted a number of albums by my label so that I may understand better the spectrum of talent they possessed on their roster. Discs went into the machine one after another, and somehow there was only one out of this plethora of records that truly broke the glass ceiling for me: Baden Powell’s “Canta Vinicius de Moraes e Paulo Cesar Pinheiro.”
I spun this record every day in a nearly barren factory apartment in Philadelphia. Playing on repeat was “É De Lei,” as I learned to cook food for myself for the first time. The sunny chromatic disassembly of a groove (recorded in 1977 in Paris) drowned out the ambulances, the busses, the gunshots and the entire world around me.
This song, and the entire record moreover, eventually accompanied me everywhere. It went from kitchen music to music that kept me warm on cold and rainy nights. It was my only company when I was alone. It inspired me to dance, or more appropriately, “try” to dance. I would sing along, surely screwing up the words, but I didn’t care. The same way any gringo gives their first ditch effort to Nat King’s Spanish record “Key sass, key suss, key sauce…”.
Back then, little did I know that that musical encounter alone in my digs with Baden Powell would be the spark that ignited a creative fire some 15 years later… beyond books, life too, it seems, offers every so often a beautiful preface.
On August 22nd, 2021, Philippe Powell, composer-pianist and son of Baden Powell, came to my studio in Paris to stay for two weeks. Our mission: write a record. Now I had heard Philippe before, and since that first crossing, many years ago, I was blown away by his talent. Hearing his compositions and observing the way he played, I knew he had something. He’s like “The Bill Evans of Brazil,” I’d screech to my colleagues, “… he’s just got that thing that goes so deep…”.
One feeling inspired the record. “Think Tony & Bill,” I blurted out when initially I’d thought I had some brilliant new concept to share with him. Little did I know he was both a teacher and former student of The Bill Evans Academy in Paris – whoops. He was kind about it. We opened a bottle of wine, and that opened our mouths. We shared ideas, our love of inspiration, stories of our pasts and concepts of life. We were like leaky faucets – you couldn’t shut us off. Finally, with our brains and our bags unpacked, we went into artist mode and everything just immediately started to flow. We knocked out nearly one song a day.
I was suddenly back in that kitchen in Philadelphia… Only this time, it was “cooking for two,” and there we were in Paris, all hours of the night, creating together what would be the final recipe for each dish on this album: Entre eux deux. Not to sound pretentious, but the vibe I get about this record is that it’s like a secret shared between friends. Like winks over a joke or “remember that time” stories swapped over cocktails. There’s a kind of effortlessness to our efforts. One moment we have each other cracking up; in the other, we’re moved to tears… In French, they call it “complicité.”
Songs were sometimes born out of thin air. Sometimes careful consideration, sometimes out of stolen moments of sleep and other times, born out of long laid gazes out the window. “Fleurs du Dimanche,” tells the true story of how one early Sunday delivery left me feeling terribly uninspired to answer the door, and yet several hours later became the inspiration for a song. It’s a sort of comical tell-all for gentleman suitors, explaining why one should not dare to wake a sleeping beauty (especially a musician) on a Sunday morning, even for flowers: “surtout pas de fleurs le Dimanche matin.” The view from the window on one of the summers last golden days inspired us to dedicate a song to Paris and, moreover, Gustave Eiffel, realizing that this beautiful monument does not have a modern-day musical hommage! Where is the best place to kiss in Paris? Mais La Tour Eiffel! Bien Sûr!: “mais si l’on cherche une romance encore plus belle, on va s’em- brasser à La Tour Eiffel”.
Two weeks and 14 songs later, we were done. We went immediately into the studio… but it flopped, serving only as the world’s most expensive rehearsal. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. From broken mics to radio interference: we were doomed. But that’s funny ain’t it? Can’t get jazz songs played on most radios in the world, but international radio is coming full blast into the mics. Go figure. After I heard the word “goalllllllllllllll “burning hot in the tube mic, I figured it was time to call it a day.
So we took another swing at it, and on November 9th, we spent two days together and cut the record at Guillaume Tell Studios in Suresnes, just outside of Paris. Two legendary days laying it all down. Not every song made it – sometimes that’s the breaks. But we cranked out nearly half a dozen tunes in less than 48 hours, thanks to the help of our amazing engineer Denis Caribaux.
Besides composing together, on the record, we pay homage to Philippe’s father Baden Powell and his colleagues Vinicius de Moraes and Pierre Barouh on “Samba em Preludio.” We revisit the French classic “Plus Fort Que Nous” from Claude Lelouche’s film, Un Homme Et Une Femme. We drafted our own way through the dark on songs like “Perhaps You’ll Wonder Why” and “Darling Fare Thee Well,” navigating these deep feelings of heartbreak and loss… And I took my first shot at a recitation on “Ode To Every Man.” Scary? Yes. Daring? You betcha… Successful? You decide.
There’s a lot to tell, but I’ll let you get to the real part: the listening. If I had to sum it up in a couple of words, I’d say: this record is a dance between two people who love and value the same things: deep poetry and solid melodies. The title “Entre eux deux”, stands true. Here’s a peek into the world of two artists, seemingly destined to meet and who just really dig each other. We hope you really dig it too.
About Philippe Powell
Philippe is a French-born musician and composer.
As his family had a musical background he began studying classical piano at the age of 7. His Father, the legendary brazilian guitarist Baden Powell taught him the basics of composition, harmony and improvisation. Later on he would study at the Conservatório Brasileiro de Música in Rio de Janeiro and the Ecole Normale de Musique Alfred Cortot in Paris. In 2005 he was one of the awarded musicians of the Montreux Jazz Piano Solo Competition. Philippe is influenced by both Brazilian and European Culture. He finds inspiration in written music, afro-brazilian rhythms, jazz and poetry.