Rebecca Kleinmann with her flute, sitting against a wooden fence.
Rebecca Kleinmann Photo by Briana Waters

It can be hard to quit the Bay Area, particularly for musicians who’ve spent their formative years here honing a personal sound within a close-knit community of collaborators. 

Rebecca Kleinmann, a flutist, vocalist, composer, teacher and bandleader who forged her musical identity via immersion in an array of Brazilian musical idioms, found a vibrant, welcoming community when she moved to the Bay Area in 2009. Connecting with Brazilian-born musicians who’ve made a home in California, as well as fellow non-Brazilians besotted with samba, choro, forro, and Brazilian jazz, she became one of the local scene’s pivotal figures. Until the hours of paid work required to cover rent in Oakland made the Bay Area untenable. 

In search of cheaper digs, she relocated to Durham, North Carolina, last fall, returning to her home state and much closer to family in Charlotte, where she grew up. Back in California this month for another serious dose of Brazilian soul, Kleinmann performs Saturday at the Red Poppy Art House with her trio, featuring Rio-born guitarist Ricardo Peixoto and percussionist Will Martins. The group also plays Sunday afternoon in Berkeley at BrasArte’s Lavagem/Brazilian Day Celebration. The event is dedicated to the memory of dancer and choreographer Conceição Damasceno, who dedicated her life to sharing Afro-Brazilian culture in the Bay Area. 

“I just have enormous respect for Ricardo,” Kleinmann said. “He’s somebody who crosses all the genres of Brazilian music. He’s a great soloist, and he can play bossas, choros, baiao. You can throw a jazz tune at him, and he’ll take a brilliant solo. It doesn’t ever feel like he’s striving for something in the music. The music is flowing through him.”

Kleinmann and Peixoto aren’t sure when they first met, but they both figure it was at California Brazil Camp in Cazadero, California, a long-running summer intensive that brings some of Brazil’s greatest musicians to the Sonoma County redwoods for two weeks of teaching and music-making with dedicated amateurs and professional musicians. Brazil Camp founder Dennis Broughton credits BrasArte’s Conceição Damasceno with encouraging him to launch the program, and Kleinmann was loath to leave behind the interlaced communities when she moved east. One advantage of low expectations is that there’s lots of room to be pleasantly surprised.

“I thought there was going to be nothing going on in Durham,” she said. “I had no idea there was such a great scene. I’ve been getting into the jazz and Cuban music scenes, and I’m getting ready to branch out. And I found a Brazilian community! The first Brazilian gig I went to, it was a full on scene, a samba-reggae party led by this musician from Salvador, Caique Vidal. He just hired me for a home recording, adding flute for his upcoming album.” 

She’s been traveling to Brazil regularly to study, perform and hang out with other musicians since the mid-aughts. Her self-produced 2005 debut album “Raio de Sol” (Ray of Sun) immediately established her as a promising and creatively ambitious new voice, with several pieces co-written with legendary multi-instrumentalist and composer Hermeto Pascoal. Percussion maestro Airto Moreira and pianist Jovino Santos Neto (a veteran of one of Pascoal’s great bands) also contributed to the project. Which isn’t to say that Kleinmann focuses solely on the music of Brazil. 

Kleinmann has also worked widely in jazz and flamenco settings, and her disparate musical passions served her well in the Bay Area, where she performed at many of the leading festivals and venues. The institutions and performance spaces that incubate and showcase creative exploration are subject to many of the same economic forces that have driven so many musicians to seek more affordable locales. The Red Poppy’s survival is one very bright spot on a performing arts scene that seems increasingly fragile. 

Over the years, Kleinmann has performed at least a dozen times at the Red Poppy, including shows with her Brazilian sextet Kata-Vento, her duo with Brazilian-born, Berkeley-reared guitarist Ian Faquini, and a tribute to the great Brazilian composer Guinga, with Faquini and trombonist Natalie Cressman. She premiered a set of arrangements celebrating the departed Nuyorican flute maestro Dave Valentin, “a test run of a tribute we did at the National Flute Association,” she said. And she performed at the Poppy with Spanish flamenco pianist Alex Conde and a Balkan music project led by multi-instrumentalist Dan Cantrell. It’s no wonder she credits the nonprofit performance space with drawing her to the Bay Area. 

“It was the first place I ever set foot in San Francisco,” Kleinmann said, recalling a gig with acoustic world-music ensemble Elameno Quintet. “It was a packed audience, and there were people sitting on the floor, so enthusiastic. I loved that. It’s why I moved to the Bay Area. It was easier to gig and draw a listening audience than L.A. or San Diego. I loved I could play with different projects and that people come out to support musicians. It drew me here.”

Ricardo Peixoto. Courtesy of the artist.

The trio with Peixoto and Martins is a new configuration that’s relatively untested as a unit. Without a bass player, the guitarist can cover several roles, providing bass lines, chordal harmonies, rhythmic support or melodic lead. He hasn’t worked with Martins many times, “but I’ve done a bunch of things with her over the years, and they tend to be like this,” said Peixoto, who grew up in Rio de Janeiro and moved to Boston to study at Berklee College of Music in the mid-1970s when his guitar classmates included furture jazz stars Bill Frisell, Mike Stern and John Scofield. 

“Rebecca plays a variety of styles,” he said. “In the Bay Area, there are a lot of people who’ve spent a lot of time researching Brazilian music, getting familiar with the players and the traditions, and Rebecca is one of them. She’s been there so many times, and she loves the music and culture. When we get together it’s always a work in progress and there’s always something new developing.” 

Her new life in North Carolina is definitely under construction, though she’s building rapidly. She’s already lined up work accompanying classes at UNC, “and I started a choro band with two Brazilians and a guitarist who’s not Brazilian but enthusiast,” Kleinmann said. “I’m calling it Norte Carolinas. And a samba band has adopted me. I sat in, and they hired me for all their upcoming gigs. The scene isn’t as extensive or specialized as the Bay Area, but it gives me a chance to cultivate new ideas. The little bit that I’ve tried has blossomed, so I’m feeling more hopeful.”

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