Some travelers collect T-shirts while others favor postcards. Oakland saxophonist Harvey Wainapel, who regularly makes extended trips to Brazil, commemorates each journey by arranging recording sessions with an ever-expanding network of musical friends.
He's taken to sharing these beautiful mementos on CDs that serve as a state-of-art survey of the contemporary Brazilian instrumental music scene. Wainapel celebrates his latest project, "Amigos Brasileiros Vol. 2," with concerts Thursday at Santa Cruz's Kuumbwa Jazz Center and Friday at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley (formerly the Jazzschool).
While hardly the first American jazz musician to fall under the sway of Brazil's sensuous melodies and intoxicating rhythms, Wainapel has delved far more deeply than most into this vast and verdant field. He sees himself as a cross between an evangelist and a tour guide.
"Like when somebody comes over to your house and you present them with a fruit or a fish dish they've never tried before," says Wainapel, 63. "It's not about me. It's about the dish, and I'm the waiter."
All humility aside, a better metaphor for Wainapel is master chef who expertly assembles a smorgasbord of delectable sounds. As a continental nation with a profusion of hothouse regional scenes, Brazil offers untold musical treasures, even for resident experts, particularly when it comes to instrumental music (which is greatly overshadowed by the preference for vocals).
"There's so much creative energy down there, with all these young musicians making new sounds," Wainapel says. "You never get to the end of it. The first time I went down in 2000, I hardly knew anybody, but I learned Portuguese. People could sense I was pretty sincere."
Equally adept on clarinets and saxophones, the New York-raised reed expert has collaborated with some of jazz's most acclaimed musicians over the past three decades, including pianists Kenny Barron and McCoy Tyner, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, and fellow multireed master Joe Lovano.
Wainapel still plays in jazz contexts, but he's gained recognition around the world for his knowledge of Brazilian music, both through his own projects and as a collaborator with Sao Paulo guitarist Paulo Bellinati and Rio de Janeiro-raised, Seattle-based pianist-composer Jovino Santos Neto. He's also worked extensively with Rio-born Bay Area vocalist Claudia Villela, with whom he's performing a tribute to Stan Getz and João Gilberto at the Monterey Jazz Festival on Sept. 19.
"We'll be doing some of Claudia's music, too, since she's such a great composer," Wainapel says. "She doesn't sound anything like João or Astrud Gilberto, and I don't sound like Getz, so it's our interpretation of that music."
In following up on his gorgeous 2007 travelogue "Amigos Brasileiros," Wainapel again documented his travels crisscrossing the country with "Vol. 2." Some of the liveliest tracks on the new album hail from the northeastern city of Recife, where he connected with Spok, a pioneering bandleader and composer who brought the carnival style frevo from the street into the concert hall. Spok wrote a deliriously grooving piece for the album that has him and Wainapel trading lines on soprano saxophones.
He's also forged friendships with several inventive players in Belo Horizonte, the capital of the southeastern state of Minas Gerais. Bassist Eneias Xavier contributes "Boneca de Pano," a tune dedicated to the great Minas guitarist Beto Lopes, who introduces the dreamy piece with his light acoustic touch.
The project's profusion of talent presented Wainapel with a daunting logistical challenge for these gigs. Rather than focusing on a particular region or style, he recruited a new cast of players who can traverse a good deal of the "Amigos Brasileiros" territory.
"The CD is a cast of almost 40 musicians who all live in Brazil," Wainapel says. "I don't have enough miles on United to bring them over. Anyway, the instrumentation is totally different on every track. I decided to adapt what I could from the two albums for a basic rhythm section with percussion."
The band features Rio de Janeiro-raised New York City-based pianist Vitor Goncalves and drummer Cleber Almeida, both highly sought after accompanists. Rounding out the quintet are two American players passionately committed to Brazilian music, percussionist Brian Rice and Concord-raised bassist Scott Thompson, who tours widely with the esteemed Brazilian guitarist/composer Chico Pinheiro.
Both Brazilian players are in town as instructors at Dennis Broughton's California Brazil Camp, a long-running conclave that brings an annual infusion of Brazilian talent to the Bay Area. While Wainapel participates in Brazil Camp every year, it can't slack his thirst for fresh sounds directly from the source. He's already got his ticket to a six-week trip to Brazil this fall.
"That might be the birth of 'Amigos Brasileiros Vol. 3,'" he says. "The albums come together in an improvisatory way. I'm always being presented with new faces, new talents. I find material and the players, and we go."
Contact Andrew Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harvey Wainapel & Amigos Brasileiros
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320 Cedar St., Santa Cruz
Also: 8 p.m. Friday, California Jazz Conservatory (formerly the Jazzschool), 2087 Addison St., Berkeley, $15, 510-845-5373, http://cjc.edu