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Interview: Carlos Malta 

Tom McDermott on jazz flautist Carlos Malta, who's coming to town for a week of performances

April 13

Carlos Malta

7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Jazz at the Sandbar

University of New Orleans, Homer Hitt Alumni Center, second floor, 280-6039;

Tickets $5, free for UNO students/faculty/staff

Arpil 14-15

8 p.m. & 10 p.m. Thursday-Friday

Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, 626 Frenchmen St., 949-0696;

Tickets $25

click to enlarge Carlos Malta is a master multi-instrumentalist
  • Carlos Malta is a master multi-instrumentalist

Consider Brazilian instrumental music and you might first think of guitar, or if you're inclined to the nation's folkier styles, the accordion. It is, however, the flute on which the Brazilians reign supreme. It is one of the lead instruments of choro, the 19th-century style that is the root of so much Braziliana. And Pixinguinha, perhaps the greatest Brazilian instrumentalist ever, was an astonishing flutist.

  One of Brazil's master flutists, Carlos Malta, returns to New Orleans this week for several gigs and workshops. He's an ace who has played with everyone of note from Brazil, stretching back to bossa nova progenitor Johnny Alf through modern superstars like Lenine. He spent a crucial 12-year apprenticeship with Hermeto Pascoal, the uncategorizable bandleader whose knack for employing great sidemen might be compared to Art Blakey, or perhaps Sun Ra.

  Malta is omnivorous on his woodwinds, which range from wee piccolo-sized bamboo flutes to a hefty bass flute whose low notes will have your sternum buzzing. This is not the refined wispy sound of bossa nova; Malta specializes in more percussive northeastern roots styles like forro and maracatu. Of special interest is his incorporation of Brazilian Indian idioms; Malta is the latest in a series of Brazilian musicians from composer Heitor Villa-Lobos to Marlui Miranda who've tapped into their aboriginal styles in a way North America's eminent players never have.

  Listeners can expect several selections from Malta's latest CD, Tudo Azul. The title, which translates literally as "Everything's Blue," illustrates a couple nice of points about Brazil. Since native Brazilian music doesn't incorporate the blues, the title doesn't connote sadness but rather "Everything's good," with blue as in blue skies (a very welcome idea in the beach-culture country). It is a disc of sophisticated modern jazz with Brazilian rhythms; think Airto Moreira or the more inside moments of Hermeto.

  Malta would not be able to come to New Orleans and do his thing so well if we didn't have fine players to back him up. Bassist Jim Singleton and pianist Larry Sieberth are well-known for their ability to play all styles, but a special mention must be made of Ricky Sebastian. He's one of our city's monster drummers and someone masterful enough in Brazilian idioms to have toured regularly with the powerhouse pianist Tania Maria.

  Those who've seen Malta perform live know how good he is on the microphone and how well he explains his music. He plays all the saxes and clarinet too, and he might drop in some modern jazz along the way. For the most part, however, these shows will feature flute-propelled esoterica and will deliver some of the finest Brazilian music the city will hear live this year.

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