Berkeley High alum and California Jazz Conservatory graduate Ian Faquini celebrates the release of his debut album Metal na Madeira Friday at the CJC with vocalist Paula Santoro. Photo: Courtesy the artist

Ian Faquini’s Brazilian identity was never in doubt. Born in the nation’s futuristic capital Brasilia, he moved with his parents to Berkeley just in time to finish second grade, and grew up speaking Portuguese at home. But it wasn’t until the revered Brazilian guitarist/composer Guinga took him under his wing that Faquini immersed himself in the music of his homeland. In recent years he’s emerged as one of the most gifted young guitarists and songwriters working in Brazilian music, and he celebrates the release of his debut album Metal na Madeira (Ridgeway Records) with Rio de Janiero-based vocalist Paula Santoro 8 p.m. Friday at the California Jazz Conservatory.

Even before he discovered Guinga, Faquini was obsessed with music. Interested in different instruments as a child, he found his soulmate when he got an acoustic guitar for his 11th birthday. “It was impossible for me not to practice,” says Faquini, who just turned 26. “My mom would say, haven’t you been playing too much? I had a band in middle school and would make them have six-to-eight hour rehearsals.”

Rio de Janeiro vocalist Paula Santoro. Photo: Courtesy the artist

He had attended California Brazil Camp in Cazadero as a child, but it was the summer session of 2005 when he was 15 that he met Guinga, “and that completely changed my life,” Faquini says. “Guinga has some very unusual harmonies and I learned a really hard song of his that week. I remember being so touched by his music, and it took over my life.”

Guinga spent his early years accompanying top samba singers Beth Carvalho and João Nogueira, and for decades maintained a dual career as a dentist and a songwriter sought out by beloved Brazilian singers such as Elis Regina, Nelson Gonçalves, Clara Nunes, and Miúcha. Since the early 1990s he’s cemented his status as one of Brazil’s most esteemed composers with a series of exquisite albums of his own.

He’s forged close ties with the Bay Area’s deep pool of Brazilophilic musicians, but Faquini was truly his protégé. Accepted by Boston’s Berklee College of Music after graduating from Berkeley High, Faquini decided it was too cold, too far from home, and too expensive, even with a generous scholarship. Fortuitously, the California Jazz Conservatory had just launched its accredited jazz program, and Faquini became the second student enrolled for a degree (he’d already taken some courses at the CJC’s Jazzschool Community Music School).

Studying with faculty like guitarist Randy Vincent, pianist Marcos Silva, trombonist John Gove, and trumpeter Erik Jekabson (a fellow Berkeley High alum), Faquini quickly became the cat to call when a singer wanted to tackle songs by Guinga. Several years ago, however, he set out on a new musical path, looking to discover his own voice as a writer.

He formed a duo with flutist/vocalist Rebecca Kleinmann, and collaborated with vocalist Sandy Cressman, writing the music for two songs on her gorgeous new album Entre Amigos (he’s on the road with Santoro when Cressman plays the CJC with her band Homenagem Brasileira on Saturday Oct. 8, but he’ll be joining her as a special guest at Oakland’s Sound Room on Saturday, Oct. 29). She also contributed backing vocals on his album’s title track.

“Ian is the real deal,” says Cressman, who has taken the leap into writing her own Brazilian material after more than two decades immersed in the riches of the Brazilian Songbook. “He organically embodies the melodic, harmonic and emotional beauty of Brazilian music. I think they’re all connected in his compositions. When you see him play, you know you’re seeing something special.”

Like so many of the most important musical relationships in his life, he met Cressman at Brazil Camp, which is also where he started playing with Paula Santoro, a major figure on the Brazilian music scene since releasing her first album 20 years ago. “I love her voice and her singing my songs,” Faquini says. “We started talking about recording at Brazil Camp in 2014, and planned to go in the studio after camp last year, when we had all those musicians here.”

Recorded over three days at Fantasy Studios, the album features a cast of Brazilian masters, including Vitor Gonçalves on accordion and keyboards, drummer Rafael Barata, and saxophonist/arranger Spok, as well as Bay Area Brazilophiles like reed expert Harvey Wainapel and bassist Scott Thompson. Bassist and CJC professor Jeff Denson released the album on his label Ridgeway Records, which has become an essential outlet for some of the region’s most creative players.

Aside from the superlative cast, what makes Metal na Madeira so impressive is the consistently excellent quality of his songs. Faquini sought out some of Brazil’s most respected lyricists as collaborators, such as Thiago Amud, Iara Ferreira, and Mauro Aguiar (who also did the album’s lovely art work). “I like writing music to existing words,” Faquini says. “Mostly I write the songs and try to think of the lyricist who will have to do with that song, send to them.”

With a recent faculty appointed at the CJC, and a cozy apartment just behind the Brazilian cultural outpost BrasArte on San Pablo Avenue, where he performs regularly, Faquini doesn’t have any plans to leave Berkeley.

“I like it here,” he says. “I have an apartment. I like composing and playing here. I like the weather. It’s very relaxed. I don’t see myself moving any time soon. But I’m playing a bunch in Brazil, and doing some touring around the West Coast with Paula, and it’s always great to get out on the road.”

Berkeley clarinet master Ben Goldberg celebrates the release of Knuckle Sandwich, a recent album featuring the collective trio Invisible Guy with drummer Hamir Atwal and pianist/keyboardist Michael Coleman 3 p.m. Saturday at Maybeck Recital Hall. It’s one of several Goldberg gigs coming up in the area, including Oct. 11 at the Berkeley Arts Festival performance space with Berkeley pianist Myra Melford, just back from a triumphant night in New York City with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performing several of her compositions as part of its season opening concert.

And Berkeley saxophone explorer George Brooks performs tonight at Freight & Salvage with ASPADA, a supergroup featuring Remember Shakti percussionist V. Selvaganesh, Egytpian-born pianist Osam Ezzeldin, Berkeley bassist Kai Eckhardt, and special guest vocalist Mahesh Kale, a master of the Hindustani classical tradition who just received India’s National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer.

Andrew Gilbert writes a weekly music column for Berkeleyside. He also reports for the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and KQED’s California Report. Read his previous Berkeleyside reviews.

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Andrew Gilbert

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....