When lockdown scuppered Rubim de Toledo’s year, the Edmonton-based bassist and bandleader discovered a new way of working – and a new sound. John Bungey reports:
Has lockdown changed the work that musicians are creating? If you’re Rubim de Toledo, an award-winning bassist, bandleader and composer based in Edmonton, Alberta, the answer is clearly yes. With 100 engagements shelved in 2020 and group rehearsals impossible, the bassist joined the musicians round the world who could only gig to an empty living room. For a new album, any contributions from fellow musicians would have to come via his inbox.
“It’s pretty hard to make a jazz record when you’re stuck at home. Suddenly that wasn’t an option,” he says. De Toledo’s three previous albums were well-crafted acoustic jazz with the leader a strong presence on double bass. He’d won critical acclaim and built a healthy reputation on the Canadian jazz scene. His latest album – The Dig – however, has turned out to be very different. After the musician recorded demos – not just bass, also keyboards, percussion and guitar – his collaborators responded with their own remotely recorded parts. “Everyone had a makeshift way of recording and they would send me their tracks and I would start editing and producing and building these tracks.
“I had a bunch of ideas that came together and luckily they worked out to be somewhat of a coherent artistic statement.” Necessity, as they say, was the mother of invention for an album that not only salutes the musician’s Brazilian heritage but mixes in reggae, afrobeat, R’n’B and club beats. The main melodic voice is the trumpet of Bob Tildesley recalling the muted poetry of Tutu-era Miles Davis. It’s a hooky, groove-driven set that sounds playful and sunny (useful in Alberta where winter temperatures can slump to -40C).
“In the back of my mind I’ve always wanted to do other records that were either very Latin or more specifically very Brazilian,” he says. “I also really do like the groovy aspects of the bass and playing some R’n’B … and I had these ideas for songs that were very different to an acoustic jazz record.” So the title track features warmly melodic trumpet and electric piano playing the theme in unison over a busy hi-hat groove underpinned by an afrobeat-inspired bass riff. Sentimentos is a samba-reggae party-starter with De Toledo playing assorted Brazilian percussion that builds an irresistible groove. Bottom Dweller moves from reggae to a cymbal-splashed pop beat as synths bubble away. On The Sands afrobeat guitar comes to the Rio beach with a blast of funky Hammond organ. His website helpfully recommends: “File under jazz/latin-jazz/world”.
The bassist says the album’s global feel has echoes of a 2007 release, In Charcoal and Crimson, originally created for a dance work and with a “nu jazz” sound that ventured far beyond mainstream jazz. “Everyone loved that – and this was me trying to do that again. It came out quite different.”
In lockdown purdah he had been listening to – and feeling nostalgic for – the Brazilian music that first inspired him. That meant evenings of Caetano Veloso, Ivan Lins, Gilberto Gil and the Tropicália sound. Hence the percussion he played himself on the record – surdo, repinique, pandero … He also covers guitar and some keyboard parts. Ideally, he says, he would have recruited a top-rank guitarist. “But at home, not having to worry about the clock running in the studio, I could get it where I wanted it.”
He’s very happy with the results – demos that have become much more than demos. “You put these things out there in the world and see what happens. So it’s great when people take notice.”