Amaro Freitas: Y’Y review – transcendent sounds inspired by the Amazon

<span>Muscular, complex rhythms … Amaro Freitas.</span><span>Photograph: Micael Hocherman</span>
Muscular, complex rhythms … Amaro Freitas.Photograph: Micael Hocherman

Brazilian pianist Amaro Freitas approaches the 88 keys of his piano as if they were drums. Across three albums since his 2016 debut Sangue Negro, Freitas has honed a style of muscular, complex rhythm within jazz improvisation. Often playing different metres in each hand, he encompasses everything from folk maracatu polyrhythms on 2018’s Afrocatu to staccato, mechanical repetitions on 2021’s Sankofa.

His latest album, Y’Y, puts this rhythmic playfulness in service to a spiritual theme. Dedicated to the preservation of the Amazon, the nine tracks of Y’Y (meaning “water” or “river” in Sateré Mawé dialect) use whistles, prepared piano and percussion to evoke the sounds of the rainforest and its mythical beings. Opener Mapinguari (Encantado da Mata) sees Freitas playing twinkling phrases over shakers and cymbal washes, reflecting the rustling of leaves; dedicated to the “water mother” spirit, Uiara (Encantada da Água) – Vida e Cura develops a cascading rhythm over dampened piano strings to create the effect of water rushing.

The pleasant atmospherics continue through the breathy, bird-like whistles of Viva Naná and the enveloping harp melodies of Brandee Younger feature Gloriosa. But it’s when Freitas unleashes his innate sense of experimental rhythm that the album soars. The second half of eight-minute odyssey Dança dos Martelos breaks down into thundering bass discordance and frenetic right-hand phrases, channelling the chaos of a storm, while closing track Encantados is a highlight, featuring Hamid Drake on drums, Shabaka Hutchings on flute and Aniel Someillan on bass. Over 10 minutes, Freitas develops a fast-paced syncopated motif against Drake’s hard-swinging groove, exploding into a solo that plays like an urgent rallying cry.

Y’Y finds Freitas at his most wide-ranging, embodying soft natural ambience as well as dramatic action on the piano. It is an album of mood music that refuses to settle, leaving the listener moved and invigorated.

Also out this month

Sahrawi singer Aziza Brahim releases her latest album, Mawja (Glitterbeat), melding dabke rhythms and tabal hand drums with flamenco guitar to produce 10 lively tracks of powerful vocals that evoke her Western Saharan culture and current life in Spain. Haitian American singer Nathalie Joachim’s second album Ki Moun Ou Ye (Nonesuch) finds the perfect balance between rich, acoustic warmth and fragmented electronic production as Joachim soars in a Haitian Creole falsetto. The debut record from Sheherazaad, Qasr (Erased Tapes), features production from Arooj Aftab and draws on the singer’s atmospheric Urdu vocals, peaking on the reverb-laden jazz inflections of Koshish.