One reason jazz musicians initially became so enamored with the music of countries like Brazil had to do with the way their harmonic and rhythmic aspects lent themselves to improvisation. The music once considered bossa nova has become a musical standard, evoking laidback, party atmospheres where it can blend into the background. Yet Pittsburgh's own Salsamba, itself a 26-year institution, proves on its sixth album that a subdued music can still have a good deal of fire at its core.
Tenor saxophonist Eric DeFade hints at the aggressive influence of John Coltrane below the surface during the bright opener "Have You Met George Jones?" That song's namesake -- the group's master conga player -- sets up dazzling rhythmic patterns all over the album with drummer Tom Wendt. Of the two interpretations of the music of saxophonist Wayne Shorter, Salsamba's take on "Fall" manages to feel both loose and groovy. This sensuality continues when Brazil-to-Pittsburgh transplant Kenia lends her voice to "Agora Tá."
The album's strongest compositions come from guitarist Eric Susoeff. He salutes late Pittsburgh trumpeter Pete Henderson in "One for Pete," with help from brass man Sean Jones. The title track extends the melodic structure of the blues format, and the closer "I Dare You!" presents a sharp blend of cross rhythms and blowing. Susoeff's arrangement of Egberto Gismonti's "Memoria E Fado" deftly incorporates strings and flute without sacrificing the depth felt on the other tracks.
Salsamba CD release. 5 p.m. Tue., July 27. Katz Plaza, Downtown. Free. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org