THE FATTORUSO BROTHERS had come a long way in the eleven years between the release of their first record and their debut as Opa on Milestone in 1976. Hailing from Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital, older brother Hugo had been born in 1943 and was a child prodigy. Hugo, his brother Jorge Osvaldo, Roberto Capobianco and Carlos Vila formed their first band Los Shakers in 1963 in the wake of the Beatles’ debut recordings. One look at the cover of their first album shows that they were being marketed as the Uruguayan equivalent of the fab four. From 1965 until the original line-up split up in 1969 they had great success in South America with several albums and were especially popular in Argentina. They are now regarded as one of the region’s psychedelic pioneers, with their 1968 album “La Conferencia Secreta Del Toto’s Bar” considered something of a classic. Our sister label Big Beat released the now-deleted career over-view “Los Shakers Por Favor”. Hugo was the musical leader of the group, playing guitar, piano and harmonica as well as singing, while brother Jorge also sang and played guitar.
Opa was formed after the brothers split from Los Shakers in 1969. In a complete departure from the beat group past, Hugo stopped playing guitar and concentrated on keyboards and Jorge moved to drums. They were joined on bass by Ringo Thielmann. Hugo appeared to have been harking back to his youthful infatuation with the piano stylings of Oscar Peterson and Thelonious Monk, by forming a jazz group, though they were anything but a straight jazz trio with their South American heritage to the fore. In 1970 they moved to New York, taking a residency at the Golden Chariot restaurant. It is here that they were seen by Airto Moreira.
Moreira moved to the United States with his wife Flora Purim in the late 60s, and had become the star percussionist of the US jazz scene. After sessions with Duke Pearson and Donald Byrd, he had a stint with the Miles Davis group, appearing on the album “Live Evil” and sessions for the “Jack Johnson” soundtrack. His next two outfits were formed with alumni of Davis’ group and he was a founder member of the experimental fusion outfit Weather Report, led by Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter. After appearing on their debut album he and Flora joined up with Chick Corea’s Return To Forever.
As early as 1970 Moreira had his own albums as a leader. By 1972 he had signed to Creed Taylor’s CTI label, where for the album “Fingers” he recruited Opa to play on the session. Moreira and the trio were joined David Amaro and Flora Purim, to make a record of pulsating jazz fusion with a distinct Latin American flavour, which yielded the classic ‘Tombo in 7/4’ with a theme that Moreira returned to several times in his career. It was also reprised with Opa on their debut LP. Immediately after the recording Opa became Airto Moreira’s live band, appearing on the album “In Concert”’ recorded at Madison Square Gardens in April 1973. The concert was shared with fellow Brazilian Eumir Deodato. One of the highlights of the album was the performance of Hugo Fattoruso’s wonderful ‘Parana’. On the back of the success that Deodato was having with his single of ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’. The album even crossed over to the Billboard pop album charts.
After a nationwide tour Moreira formed a new band, but stayed close to Opa, with various members of the group turning up on albums by him or Flora Purim through the rest of the decade. He was also instrumental in getting Opa signed to Fantasy’s subsidiary Milestone, for whom Flora Purim was recording. He also negotiated a deal for his compatriot Raul De Souza for his debut album “Colors”. With Airto Moreira behind the desk as producer their Milestone debut recording began in February 1976 and was completed in April. Opa’s compact line-up was augmented by David Amaro on guitar, Brazilian legend Hermeto Pascoal on flute and percussion and Moriera adding percussion. There was one further contributor on the record whose role should not be underestimated: Ruben Rada, who contributed two of they key songs of the LP. Another refugee from the Uruguayan rock scene of the 1960s, Rada was an expert percussion player credited with being one of the first to fuse rock with Latin-American elements when he was in the band El Kinto. In 1977 he returned to the States to play on Opa’s second album for Milestone.
The opening track ‘Golden Wings’ sets out the stall for the sound of the album. The rhythm section creates a robust back-drop for the solos of both Amaro and Hugo Fattoruso. Fattoruso creates a distinctive set of textures using not just piano but Moog, ARP and Oberheim synthesisers. The first of Rada’s compositions, the gentle ‘Paper Butterflies’, sounds Brazilian and the vocal harmonies weave in and out of the tender flute playing of Pascoal, whose solo adds to the almost trippy feel of the recording. It is worth noting that there is something of the Beatles ‘Because’ in the three-part vocal harmonies. ‘Totem’ is a rhythmic fusion instrumental fuelled by Jorge’s drumming, which propels the barrage of electronics used by Hugo Fattoruso and Amaro. Rada’s second composition is ‘African Bird’. This was the number that made this album so sought-after in London jazz clubs in the 1980s. A percussive under-current is topped by a wordless vocal chorus, swept along by an electric piano solo from Hugo Fattoruso, succeeded by a Hermeto Pascoal flute solo of equal worth. The track climaxes in an extended percussion solo with a Uruguayan Candombe rhythm.
The opening track of the second side is the folk-sounding ‘Corre Niňa’, once again lifted by some electric piano playing from Hugo Fattoruso combined with more of the wordless vocals. Opa remade this track with Flora Purim for her 1977 Warner Brothers album “Nothing Will Be As It Was….Tomorrow”. This is followed by ‘Pieces’, a four part suite where ‘La Escuela’ and ‘The Last Goodbye’ run in and between the end part of Airto Moreira’s ‘Tombo’ (familiar to almost anyone from world cup football matches of the last decade). The album ends with a very danceable piece of jazz fusion built around a pulsating bass line and featuring great solos from Amaro, Pascoal and Hugo Fattoruso. It’s a great closer to the album.
In 1977 Opa made their second album “Magic Time”’, this time with Ruben Rada acting as a fourth member on the record. Opa carried on through until the early 80s before Hugo Fattoruso moved to Brazil and Jorge Fattoruso moved back to Uruguay. They have both continued to be in-demand players and reformed Los Shakers for a short while in the early part of the 2000s.
DEAN RUDLAND / 2011