Djalma de Andrade, the Brazilian-born guitarist publicly known as Bola Sete (“Seven Ball,” the black ball in Brazilian billiards), knew he was dying when he recorded most of the tracks on Windspell. He’d been fighting the lung cancer that killed him on February 14, 1987, for the better part of a decade, and recorded these tunes at home in 1986 and ’87 with a deck donated by George Winston; yup, THAT George Winston, who has long balanced his snoozy piano musings with an affection for solo acoustic guitar. The knowledge of health and life slipping away may have contributed to the reflective qualities of these solo acoustic performances, but their grace and technical adroitness suggest that even near the end, Andrade kept morbidity and feebleness at bay.
Playing classical guitar throughout, Andrade does seem to be looking back over his life. He’d been raised in Brazil, classically trained, worked for decades in dance and jazz bands, and only came to the solo music heard here in mid-life. But the lively rhythms, spontaneous spirit, and compositional clarity that had touched what came before runs through these pieces like grains from the sand of his personal hourglass. The album is split into three parts. The first, running about half an hour, is all original compositions that work in the pan-stylistic language Andrade had first presented on his great Ocean LP, which was originally released by John Fahey’s Takoma label in 1975. “Flowers On Mt. Tam” is sweet and delicate, while “Song For Miles” is as brooding and complex as its dedicatee. The recording quality isn’t quite up to the glistening clarity of Shambhala Moon, his final studio effort, but that cuts both ways; while audiophiles might bridle at the occasional distortion, others might appreciate the lack of post-production reverb. And the fact that this music was recorded at home for Andrade’s own pleasure may have a lot to do with the more relaxed and open vibe of these performances, which contrasts favorably with Shambhala Moon’s airtight perfection.
The second section, which mixes tunes by Brazilian composers like Baden Powell with more originals, is where the guitarist gets back to his national roots. For the most part, these pieces are shorter in length and brighter in tone, and infused with joy. “Sertenaja,” for example, is a jewel, jubilant and intricate and complete despite lasting just 2:37; “Balança de Garotinha” lofts a yearning melody of a loping pulse. The music feels like the memory of dancing. The last and shortest section continues the Brazilian theme. They were recorded in 1971, around the time that Sete first presented his solo music, at The Boarding House, a San Francisco nightclub. Playing for an audience, Andrade pulls out some his most familiar and crowd-pleasing stuff, the “Black Orpheus Suite.” This is dance itself, thrilling and agile, promising abandon yet totally in control.