Prelude to a Kiss

by Eduardo Mercuri Trio

A new input on old standards.

Patrick Simard on Drums
Hayden Farrar on Bass
*Gustavo D'Amico / Tenor Saxophone on Inner Urge

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Within the timeless guitar/bass/drums format, the Brazilian-born virtuoso finds endless connections between jazz and South American musical idioms


Available from AçaíJazz Records


Guitarist Eduardo Mercuri, a native of Curitiba, Brazil, felt a sense of mission as he was completing his Masters studies at the Berklee Global Jazz Institute in 2016. Having gathered a wealth of experience playing choro and samba, Argentine tangos, Gypsy jazz, Afro-Peruvian music with Susana Baca, flamenco-pop with Alejandro Sanz, klezmer with Frank London, Latin jazz with Paquito D’Rivera, and modern jazz with Dave Douglas and George Garzone, among others, Mercuri landed on the idea for a unique and personal project.


“At Berklee I immersed myself deeply in the jazz tradition and was fortunate enough to be mentored by artists such as Joe Lovano, Terri Lyne Carrington, Danilo Pérez, Kenny Werner, Oscar Stagnaro and John Patitucci,” Mercuri says. “One day I wondered: why not rearrange some of my favorite standards in a way that emphasizes jazz interaction, freedom and flexibility, but in the context of those rich and groovy rhythms from the various folk traditions I’ve explored?” The result of Mercuri’s quest can now be heard on Prelude to a Kiss, an inspired trio set featuring bassist Hayden Farrar and drummer Patrick Simard.


“Patrick is an old friend, one of the first people I met at Berklee,” Mercuri says. “We’ve worked together in several projects. He’s one of the most solid drummers I’ve ever played with. Hayden was also a peer of mine at Berklee, and early in our time there we were playing duo in a lesson with Danilo and we had an amazing musical connection from the start. Interestingly, we played Ellington’s ‘Prelude to a Kiss’ at that lesson.”


One track, Joe Henderson’s classic “Inner Urge,” features guest tenor saxophonist Gustavo D’Amico. “I decided to feature Gustavo after playing that tune with him live,” Mercuri recalls. “I’m always trying out new arrangements and ideas onstage, so one night I called ‘Inner Urge’ in a [Brazilian] partido alto groove, and Gustavo killed it. He has a deep background in Brazilian music and that made the recording sound very natural.”


Mercuri’s full, warm tone and his seamless way of highlighting harmonic details in every song makes Prelude to a Kiss a worthy addition to the jazz guitar annals. But his embedding of various South American folk idioms in the arrangements sets it further apart, beginning with Erroll Garner’s famous “Misty.” “The rhythmic content of the melody of ‘Misty’ provides the space for the chacarera, a groove from rural Argentina, to flourish,” Mercuri explains. In contrast, Frank Churchill’s “Someday My Prince Will Come,” famously rendered by Miles Davis and many others, has a harmonic contour that Mercuri found very compatible with bossa nova. “The main difference is that in bossa nova, the bass is generally voice-led to create a descending line,” he adds.


On the Rodgers & Hart standard “Spring Is Here,” Mercuri increases the tune’s usual ballad tempo and adds a sonic flourish with the use of an envelope filter. He also overdubs a muted triangle for a captivating percussive effect. On the Gershwins’ “Someone to Watch Over Me” he begins and ends alone, hewing to a classic ballad feel as he supports Farrar’s bass solo with echoing chords on top of Simard’s impeccable brushwork. On “Prelude to Kiss,” meanwhile, “the canvas was the Afro-Peruvian lando groove,” Mercuri says. “Ballads work really well with the 12/8 rhythm, but this Ellington melody has additional elements that dovetail with the lando tradition. For example, the quadruplets in the end of the A sections reveal certain lando characteristics.”


The atmosphere shifts somewhat with “O Trenzinho do Caipira” (“Little Train of Caipira”) by the great Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. Mercuri sings the melody wordlessly and sets the piece in a dreamy semi-rubato feel inspired by Ornette Coleman’s “What Reason Could I Give” (from Science Fiction). “Although this isn’t a jazz standard,” Mercuri reflects, “it’s part of the classic Brazilian repertoire and a standard for me. I worked in a manner opposite the other tunes, incorporating jazz elements into an orchestral piece. The composition is about a train journey, so my goal in the arrangement was to evoke the rhythm of the train.”


Following an improvised solo guitar “Epilogue” with an adventurous sonic character, Mercuri ends Prelude to a Kiss with another departure: a vivacious treatment of Toninho Horta’s “Francisca,” with a woodwind quartet imaginatively and expertly arranged by Vittor Santos. “Vittor had a huge impact on me,” Mercuri says. “I met him in 2008 in a harmony class he taught during a weeklong festival in my hometown. We’ve been friends ever since and I’ve learned so much! This song is one of my all-time favorites, but after recording it I wasn’t sure I’d release it. Vittor heard it and told me I should because cause the track had ‘a lot of myself’ on it. So we made a deal: if he wrote an arrangement for it, I would release it.”


Mercuri played on two albums by the Brazilian composer Simon Khoury for which Santos was the arranger (one from 2014, the other soon to be released). Santos also wrote several arrangements for another album in the works by Mercuri, mostly featuring originals, with a roster that includes Paquito D’Rivera, Mark Walker, Roni Eytan, Marianella Rojas and more.


Prior to Prelude to a Kiss, Mercuri was featured in Univision’s “Ulab White Sessions” video series (a spot featuring guitar, cello and percussion). He released two albums in 2011, O Timbre da Mão and Jazz Cigano, the former a more traditional Brazilian outing, the latter steeped in the acoustic Django Reinhardt style. O Timbre da Mão highlighted Mercuri’s proficiency on mandolin (he also plays cavaquinho and 10-string guitar). With a wide variety of artists, Mercuri has performed in some of the most prestigious concerts venues on the East Coast, including Carnegie Hall, The Blue Note (NYC), Boston Symphony Hall and The Howard Theatre (Washington, D.C.).