“Let’s go!” is one of the many possible translations of Racha Fora (pronounced “hasha fora”), but the one most apropos to this ensemble might be “branch line”—in this case running from Brazil to Japan, a link older and deeper than you might imagine. Racha Fora’s sound is, appropriately, at once delicate and propulsive, acoustic and electronic, and fleet of finger and mind.
Leader Hiro Honshuku’s extensive resume is highlighted by his longstanding interest in Brazilian music and, above all, his lengthy association with the late composer, bandleader, and educator George Russell, author of The Lydian Chromatic Concept for Tonal Organization. Russell’s ideas have profoundly influenced Honshuku’s approach to composition and arranging and have led him to a musical idiom that is distinctively his own. In addition to the flute, Honshuku performs on the EWI, an electronic wind instrument developed by Akai that can traverse an astounding eight octaves; the vast array of sonorities it produces come from samples programmed by Honshuku on his laptop computer.
Violinist Rika Ikeda’s ravishing tone reflects her intensive classical training, but she can play rough when she wants to. An accomplished improviser, her precise portamenti in part reflect traditional Japanese music, but also give her phrases an unmistakable blues inflection.
Mauricio Andrade’s nylon guitar, delicate with almost classical voicings, centers the ensemble. His comping is rhythmically impeccable and his subdued solos are harmonically acute.
Rafael Russi brings to the electric bass much of the technique of his other instrument, the guitar. Indeed, at times, he and Andrade work together so tightly that they resemble a single 10-string instrument. His solid groove anchors the group, but he can surprise you by suddenly picking up the melodic line or adding a rich counterpoint.
Fernando Saci is not only a virtuoso of the pandeiro with absolutely flawless time but also an inventive creator of novel sounds (e.g., brushes on a Mayan ocean drum). His dazzling percussion playing is echoed by his own vivid vocalizations.
In a venerable tradition dating back at least to Duke Ellington, many of Honshuku’s original compositions acquired their often cryptic titles long after the music was completed.
The opening track, True Pot, is a baião, a rhythm from the tough, arid landscape of northeastern Brazil, while Post Noodle mixes patterns of partido alto, a highly syncopated variant of samba.
Sakura, Sakura is a centuries-old traditional melody celebrating Japan’s unofficial national flower, the cherry blossom. Famous all over the world, this theme is given a reflective setting by Honshuku, who created the arrangement in response to the suffering caused by the catastrophic earthquake, tsunami, and radiation leak in northeastern Japan in 2011. (For information on aiding the victims of these disasters, please take a moment to visit http://anonemusic.com/helpJapan.)
The choro DI menor is a fascinating meeting of minds as the unmistakable harmonic fingerprint of its composer, the Brazilian guitarist Guinga, encounters Honshuku’s modal chromaticism. Next is an Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vincius de Moraes classic, Garota de Ipanema (The Girl From Ipanema); in Honshuku’s languid arrangement, undercurrents of Bahian afoxé and samba-reggae intimate that this garota might actually be strolling on the beach at Itapuã.
Ice Butt, another of Honshuku’s inscrutably titled compositions, is a brisk baião with hints of samba, while his sensual Sus Div invokes baião’s more laid-back cousin, toada.
The Ponto-cho district in Kyoto is today an area where geisha and kabuki traditions rub elbows with expensive restaurants, but in earlier times its reputation was closer to that of the Storyville section of New Orleans in the early 20th century. Honshuku’s PONTO brings a whiff of blues and the second line to this sultry xote.
Honshuku’s diminuitive Chorozinha—a little choro—adopts the rhythms and form of this traditional Brazilian instrumental style, but with decidedly atypical harmonies. It leads straight into another original, O.o.M., a rhythmically elaborate, Hermeto-ish samba with a complex ensemble section punctuated by pandeiro breaks and a vamp that runs the voodoo down.
With Honshuku’s Rind Well, Racha Fora takes flight from Pernambuco with a frenzied frevo, fading into the brilliant blue sky shared by Brazil, Japan, and all of us.
J. R. Carroll, July 2011, writer for artsfuse.org