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Bola Sete - Live at Grace Cathedral, 1976 San Francisco

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Artist: Bola Sete

Album: Live at Grace Cathedral, 1976 San Francisco

Label: Samba Moon

Review date: Oct. 15, 2004

One of the many controversial acts that John Fahey perpetrated over his lifetime was his testimonial about Bola Sete for Guitar Player magazine. It raised a few hackles; at the time, Fahey ran Takoma, which had released Sete’s LP Ocean. His analysis compared Sete’s music (quite favorably) to his own. He lingered long over the personal impact that Sete’s solo performances had on him, pondered Bola’s distance from his time and place, asserted his closeness to God. Indivisible from the author and his passions, it was just the sort of unabashed opinion that put most guitar mag junkies' nose out of joint. This concert recording sat in the archive for 28 years, but it’s a worthy addition, to Sete’s oeuvre, and definitely worth the time of anyone who’s appreciate recent efforts by Six Organs of Admittance, Steffen Basho-Junghans, and Sir Richard Bishop.

Bola Sete was born Djalma de Andrade in Rio de Janeiro in 1923, and died in 1987. He got his stage name, Portuguese for “Seven Ball,” from the number of the black ball in Brazilian billiards. Sete moved to the United States in the ’60s, and first recorded here with jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi (yup, the guy who played the Charlie Brown theme). In 1970 he ditched jazz to play solo; this was the music that slew Fahey and first appeared on Ocean, which is now a double CD called Ocean Memories. Live at Grace Cathedral was recorded a year after Ocean’s release, and it reprises most of that album’s program.

While the tunes are the same, the performances are not; Sete may have left jazz in favor of his personal uncategorizable bossa-folk-classical-flamenco hybrid, but he had retained the jazz aesthetic of reinventing the familiar into his solo music. Some of these pieces are condensed, others expanded, and all radiate the thrill of hearing a player who’s really on. Sete’s articulation is delicate and flawless, but not at all fussy. The record also benefits from a sound that’s less trebly than Ocean Memories,’ and it sets a correspondingly darker mood.

Sete first courts darkness on the second track, a medley of his immortal, brooding melody “Gaucho” and the more rhythmic “Meu Ogum.” But part of his skill as a performer lies in programming; he flits from mood to mood, evoking joy and amor as often as an exile’s loneliness. The performance ends on a bright note; “Tio George,” a tribute to the uncle who taught Sete to play guitar, is a gleeful rush of elegantly knotted phrases that careens but never loses control. Bravo!

By Bill Meyer

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