Philly jazz quintet Ensemble Novo is about to get busy. Both in terms of style — their music has a cool, contagious groove you’ll bob along to as soon as they begin — and in terms of their gig calendar. Tonight: SOUTH Jazz Cafe on North Broad Street. Sunday: 2nd Street Festival in Northern Liberties. Next Wednesday: Penn Museum’s summer concert series.
Led by sax player and flautist Tom Moon — who, in his previous life, was chief music critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer — Ensemble Novo draws on suave tones of Brazilian pop of the 50s and 60s. The iconic Getz / Gilberto record is one clear touchstone, as is the music of Antônio Carlos Jobim, whose songs sparked the initial bond between Moon and guitarist Ryan McNeely on the local local open mic scene. They are joined by vibraphone player Behn Gillece, drummer Jim Hamilton and bassist Mark Pryzbylowski, and I also hear echoes of sounds outside the Latin jazz spectrum in their playing: Caetano Veloso, for instance, or even Europop pastiche masters Stereolab.
The band debuted in 2013 with Blue Night, and in the past year have recorded two shorter collections — Look to the Sky, which got a digital release back in December, and Who Saw You Then, Who Sees You Now, which came out in June. The latter is the focus of their Key Studio Sessions performance, and to start, watch this performance of “Upa Neguinho,” a standard that’s been performed at various turns by Edu Lobo, Elis Regina and Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66.
In their four-song set, the band also tackles the simmering “Quem Te Viu, Quem Te Ve” by Chico Buarque — Moon’s sax smokes on this one — and Banda Black Rio’s “Casa Forte,” where Gillece’s vibes shimmer as they carry the lead melody forward. Closing out the set, Moon adds an original composition to the canon, “The Sand This Time,” a slinky number full of bustling nightlife mystique.
Ensemble Novo, The Key Studio Sessions