Ricardo Peixoto
Ricardo Peixoto plays the Hillside Club in Berkeley Saturday

Rio de Janeiro native Ricardo Peixoto has spent almost his entire adult life in the United States, but his music is still steeped in the luscious melodies and insinuating rhythms of Brazil. The Oakland-based guitarist joins forces with another Brazilian master, pianist Marcos Silva, Saturday at the Hillside Club, performing his original music with flutist Bob Afifi and bassist Aaron Germain in various duo, trio and quartet configurations.

“It’s all Brazilian-based in terms of rhythm and harmonic vocabulary, but it always includes improvisation,” Peixoto says. “My tunes reflect my background, which is classical guitar, jazz, and a whole bunch of Brazilian rhythms: choro, baião, samba. I usually don’t like the term Brazilian jazz because it brings up associations I don’t particularly care for. I think of music as music, and I’m not particularly faithful to any tradition.”

At the center of the Bay Area’s Brazilian music scene since the early 1980s, Peixoto received widespread national attention with his popular band Terra Sul, which recorded 1993’s “Kindness of Strangers” for Motown’s jazz imprint MoJazz. He’s also toured widely with Flora Purim and Airto, and recorded the 1989 Contemporary album “Tomorrow’s Rainbow” with Silva and alto saxophonist/flutist Bud Shank, who started exploring Brazilian music years before Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd delved into bossa nova.

I first got to know Peixoto’s music through his long-running collaboration with the spectacular Santa Cruz vocalist Claudia Villela, a fellow Carioca with whom he’s performed widely for 25 years. Showcasing his skills as a composer and orchestrator as well as an improviser, the partnership reached an apotheosis with “InverseUniverse,” a startlingly beautiful album released in 2003 by Adventure Music that features harmonica legend Toots Thielemans as special guest.

While Peixoto was born in Rio, he grew up moving between Brazil and the United States, as his mathematician father took teaching positions at Princeton, Brown and other American universities. He relocated to Boston in the mid-1970s to study at Berklee College of Music, arriving as part of a wave of brilliant guitarists such as John Scofield, Bill Frisell and Mike Stern (he played extensively with the latter two). He also connected with the great Brazilian jazz trumpeter Claudio Roditi. “He got me started doing some of the things I’m doing today,” Peixoto says.

Pianist Marcos Silva has worked with Peixoto for the past three decades

Focusing on arranging and composing at Berklee, he ended up turning his attention back to an earlier passion, classical guitar, which is what brought him to the Bay Area. After several years studying privately with San Francisco Conservatory’s George Sakellariou, he ended up getting drawn into the region’s vibrant Brazilian music scene, and classical guitar fell by the wayside.

He found an ideal musical interlocutor when Marcos Silva, another Rio native, moved to the Bay Area in 1984 in the midst of his long-running gig as keyboardist and music director for Flora Purim and Airto. A capaciously gifted pianist and composer who had a forged a tight bond with storied jazz arranger Gil Evans, Silva has contributed arrangements to leading Brazilian bands and jazz luminaries such as Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Shank and Herbie Mann. A dedicated educator who teaches at Berkeley’s Jazzschool, he’s introduced several generations of Bay Area musicians into the intricacies of Brazilian music.

Over the past three decades Silva and Peixoto have recorded on each other’s albums and performed together in numerous settings. For Peixoto, the relationship has been an essential part of his creative development.

“I could only do this project with him,” Peixoto says. “I don’t need to explain a whole lot to Marcos. My music isn’t easy. I don’t try to be complicated, but it’s dense harmonically. It’s not the kind of thing you can just walk in and play. We have a lot of common vocabulary and he really puts in time with the music.”

The connection with Silva is particularly important since another East Bay Brazilian compatriot, guitarist/bassist Carlos Oliveira, recently moved back to his hometown, the northeastern city Recife. They don’t perform together often these days, but when they do, they make it count.

“I think of the band as an enhanced duo,” Peixoto says. “We play about a third of the tunes together, and then I bring in other players.”

Visit the Hillside Club online for details of Saturday’s concert which starts at 8:00 p.m.

Andrew Gilbert, whose Berkeleyside music column appears every Thursday, also covers music and dance for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and KQED’s California Report. He lives in west Berkeley. 

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, check out Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.

Freelancer Andrew Gilbert writes a weekly music column for Berkeleyside. Andy, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, covers a wide range of musical cultures, from Brazil and Mali to India and Ireland....