The Origin of Brazilica
"Brazilica" was co-composed by Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White, and produced by the great CHICAGO maestro Charles Stepney and White for the 1976 Ramsey Lewis Salongo album.
This song appears as the final track on the double CD. Suggested to him by Charlene Stepney, this became the opportunity for Producer Robert Hebert to bring together the Brazilian and American (Chicago) elements of the album -- with his (Hebert) wanting to feature many of the key musicians on the album -- cutting them loose to jam it up.
The song is billed as Alexandra Jackson featuring Darryl Jones, Larry Dunn, Teo Lima, and Armando Marcal. The music is a combination of Rio de Janeiro and Chicago “classical soul” music. Here, we embrace the “LEGACY” of Maestros Stepney and White, who infused Brazilian music in Earth, Wind & Fire. The “ALCHEMY” of our musical vision differs here from the Ramsey Lewis 1976 version in that the foundation of our groove is with Brazilian musicians as opposed to American musicians.
Our production also features Chicago arranger and conductor Charles Floyd who re-imagines the 1976 Charles Stepney orchestra arrangement, and features Alexandra singing with Chris Walker, Darryl Tookes and Curtis King Jr — All Vocals were recorded in New Jersey in January 2016.
As we move forward we will continue to expound on the Chicago Chess Records / Charles Stepney legacy, and specifically speak to the great Stepney’s collaborations with another Chicago legend: Minnie Riperton.
Legacy and Alchemy REMEMBERS Chicago's great Minnie Riperton and Charles Stepney.
During her A&R phase in 4Q 2014 … vocalist ALEXANDRA JACKSON and executive producer / producer ROBERT HEBERT explored the Chicago roots of Ms. Jackson's tour-de-force "Alexandra Jackson: Legacy & Alchemy" project. In this video clip … Alexandra plays and whistles “Close Your Eyes and Remember," a song recorded by Chicago’s legendary vocalist Minnie Riperton for her iconic solo debut: “Come to My Garden.” The song was composed, produced, arranged and orchestrated by Charles Stepney.
This turned out to be one of the guiding spirits of the project.
Minnie Riperton (November 8, 1947 – July 12, 1979) was an American singer-songwriter best known for her 1975 single "Lovin' You" and her multi-octave vocal range. Born in 1947, Riperton grew up in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side. As a child, she studied music, drama, and dance at Chicago's Lincoln Center. In her teen years, she sang lead vocals for the Chicago-based girl group, The Gems. Her early affiliation with the legendary Chicago-based Chess Records afforded her the opportunity to sing backup for various established artists such as Etta James, Fontella Bass, Ramsey Lewis, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and Muddy Waters. While at Chess, Riperton also sang lead for Charles Stepney’s experimental rock/soul group Rotary Connection, from 1967 to 1971.
Charles Stepney (March 26, 1931 – May 17, 1976) was an American record producer, arranger, songwriter and musician, noted for his orchestral psychedelic soul sound with Chicago's Cadet/Chess records in the 1960s and 1970s and afterwards with Earth, Wind & Fire. Between the creation of the Rotary Connection albums, Stepney also produced, arranged and co-wrote for The Soulful String, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Marlena Shaw, Terry Callier, Ramsey Lewis, Phil Upchurch, The Dells, The Emotions and Deniece Williams.
Commenting on Minnie Riperton ... Charles Stepney would say: "(she) has a soprano range of about four octaves, a whole lot of soul, she's good-looking and she's got the experience of Rotary behind her."
“Come to My Garden” (1969)
The rock aspect of Stepney’s Rotary Connection was absent on Minnie's 1969 solo debut “Come to My Garden” … with Stepney replacing that with lush orchestrations and a jazzy soft-pop feel that complements Riperton's multi-octave voice. The songs, mostly by Stepney and Riperton's husband Richard Rudolph, are mostly minor-key ballads, with alternately sorrowful and poetic lyrics.
Minnie and Maestro Stepney recorded Come to My Garden with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during Thanksgiving Week, November 24-27 1969 … and with Stepney employing a Hall of Fame rhythm section of Stepney’s fellow Chess Records alums:
Ramsey Lewis - Piano
Maurice White - Drums
Cleveland Eaton - Bass
Phil Upchurch - Guitar
Although commercially unsuccessful, Come to My Garden is considered a masterpiece by critics. "Les Fleur” is probably the album's best known song, and "Expecting" remains a favorite among fans.
Charles Stepney, Maurice White and Ramsey Lewis collaborated throughout the 1960s and 1970s, including on Stepney's final production: the 1976 Ramsey Lewis recording of "Brazilica".
Minnie Riperton was presented as a solo artist by Ramsey Lewis on Saturday, December 26, 1970 at Chicago's famed London House. She performed several numbers from the album accompanied by Charles Stepney himself ...
As a vocalist … Minnie left an edible legacy in her short 31 years on Earth that every music artist respects and appreciates.
Alexandra Jackson re-imagines "Brazilica" this year on her 2018 debut album: "Alexandra Jackson: Legacy & Alchemy" ... How that came about is Chicago producer Robert Hebert sought a production that could bring all the master musicians together in a way that signaled the concept of the Brazilian-African-Chicago nexus of the music. He started with his old Chicago high school friends: superstar bassist Darryl Jones and classical Maestro Charles Floyd (considered an heir apparent to Maestro Stepney) to collaborate, with Floyd orchestrating and conducting Rio de Janeiro's The Bossa Nova Noites Orquestra, which Legacy and Alchemy formed specifically to play the 6 orchestra tracks on Alexandra's album. Hebert then asked star vocalists Darryl Tookes, Curtis King and Chris Walker to join the song tp accompany Ms. Jackson; and requested that his album co-producer Larry Williams to joing ... channelling Chicago Jazz on Tenor Sax, and Kevin "Kalimbaman" Spears to add the African connection.
But to evolve the production ... this required that Brazil's greatest musicians join the collaboration. And, indeed they answered the call, including master musicians: drummer Teo Lima, percussionist Armando Marcal, and horn player Jesse Sadoc.
Hebert then asked another old Chicago friend: star drummer Vince Wilburn, Jr. (... more on brother Vince later) to introduce him to the Hall of Fame musician and composer Larry Dunn from the original Earth, Wind & Fire. Mr. Dunn graciously agreed, first adding a signature Synth solo; but, then, being moved to come back to the studio to offer a Kalimba solo ... perhaps as a fitting, poignant tribute to his two mentors Charles Stepney and Maurice White. Finally, to finish the track ... master engineers: Ed Cherney and Danny Leake, who cut their teeth in 1970s era Chicago recording studios ... were brought in to mix and master "Brazilica."
... It really would be impossible to properly convey the deep spirit that moved these American and Brazilian musicians to come together and pay homage to these great legacies. We can say that we tried ... hard.
Legacy and Alchemy closes its eyes, and we say a prayer … in remembrance of the great Minnie Riperton and Charles Stepney, two of the greatest artists to ever live.