Originally printed June 25, 2011, in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
There's a full semester's seminar on American-Brazilian jazz history packed into John Rapson's newly released album, "Mystery and Manners: The Improvisations of Vinícius and Nenê."
The process described in the dual-language liner notes goes beyond extensive and starts seeming obsessive. It's little wonder the project required seven years and multiple recording sessions on two continents to complete.
Starting with the "free" solo and duo improvisations of Brazilian musicians Vinícius Dorn and Nenê Lima, Rapson was set to begin transcribing, editing and reassembling the recordings as he did for his previous projects with Anthony Braxton and Billy Higgins.
But Dorn and Lima didn't just give fragments of solos; they provided full compositions that humbled Rapson and forced him to work within their structure rather than leaving him free to disassemble everything and put it back together at will.
The project grew even more collaborative as it went on. Rapson, director of jazz studies at the University of Iowa, worked with students, fellow professors and other local musicians to transcribe the works over the next five years. Then he spent the next 18 months rewriting, riffing and trying to find musicians who were "a little crazy" enough to inhabit these works and come up with their own, unexpected entry points.
The results are as inviting and intriguing as trying read the album's epigraph from Flannery O'Connor -- that enigmatic, short-lived, quintessentially American writer -- in both English and Portuguese: "There's a certain grain of stupidity that the writer can hardly do without, and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting the point at once. The longer you stare at one object, the more of the world you see in it."
Rapson will be on hand to explain all these unexplainable mistérios and maneiras at 5 p.m. today in Prairie Lights.Opinion editor Jeff Charis-Carlson can be contacted at email@example.com.