Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Ana Moura’s Live Album Surpasses All Expectations

By the end of 2009, fado siren Ana Moura’s album Leva Me Aos Fados (Take Me to the Fado Club) had gone platinum in her native Portugal. This one predates it by over a year, before she sang with Mick Jagger and Prince, before her career had really taken off. Like its predecessor, much of her new live album Coliseu is sad, brooding minor-key nocturnes, recorded at two stadium shows in 2008 and available for the first time on cd outside Portugal. It goes without saying that the true test of a singer is how well they perform live, under the lights, without the comfort of the studio and Moura acquits herself well – if anything, she sings better here. It’s kind of funny hearing her launch into fado icon Amalia Rodrigues’ Lavava No Rio Lavava (Down to the River) a-cappella and actually very compellingly, but the big stadium crowd doesn’t appear to pay any mind – until they’re singing along at the end when the band finally comes in. Other than on a couple of clapalongs, they’re less of a presence the rest of the way through.

It’s a small group for a stadium concert: Manuel Neto on Portuguese guitar, Jose Elmiro Nunes on acoustic guitars and Filipe Larsen on bass. Their spiky, intricate jangle, with the bass an almost imperceptible, driving force, creates a blend of textures that’s absolutely exquisite. In front of them, Moura projects with an impressive subtlety and command of dynamics through a mix of new material along with some fado standards, a mix of stately, wounded ballads and bouncy, upbeat songs – if there was anything to criticize about Leva Me Aos Fados, it was that she sang everything on it pretty much the same. It’s a completely different story here.

Os Meus Ohos Sao Dois Cirios (My Eyes Are Two Big Candles) is a perfect example. Like so many fado songs, it’s a lost love ballad, a gorgeous guitar janglefest with two big dips where they bring it down to where Moura holds back and lets the impact settle in. Later, she adds an element of sarcasm to her brisk interpretation of O Fado de Procura (Waiting for You), sort of a fado counterpart to Three O’Clock Blues – finally she gives up looking for the guy and orders an espresso. In a lot of ways, fado (the national music of Portugal) is a lot like the blues – Sou do Fado, Sou Fadista (Fado Is Me, I’m a Fadista) is something like B.B. King singing “I’m a bluesman,” but it’s an awfully pretty song. They pick up the pace with O Meu Amigo Joao (For My Friend Joao), whose bouncy fingerstyle folk-pop melody contrasts with the bitterness of the lyric, an emigrant whose “blood was a seed for money-grubbing somewhere else.” E Viemos Nascidos do Mar (We Came out of the Sea) is another fast, sarcastic number, the girl on the half-shell with nothing but contempt for the dimwits on the beach gaping at her. There’s also a couple of frisky gypsy jazz songs, as well as a handful of torchy ballads by popular contemporary fado songwriter Jorge Fernando, whose catalog Moura mined the last time around. It’s out now on World Village Music.

March 8, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Razia – Zebu Nation

Malagasy songwriter/chanteuse Razia Said is on a mission: to raise consciousness worldwide about global warming, specifically the devastation it’s brought to her native land. The zebu of the album title – a member of the horse family – is only one of thousands of species in Madagascar who are in danger of extinction. An extraordinarily successful blend of polemic and music, this is a lush, hypnotic, frequently beautiful album, grounded in reality but at the same time transcending it. Said sings in several dialects, as well as one song in English, with a compellingly world-weary, highly nuanced voice that’s been compared to Sade but gentler and airier. On several of the tracks here, the somewhat more energetic but less subtle singer Abena Koomson handles the vocals, along with the rest of a first-rate band: noted jazz drummer Obed Calvaire, bassist Michael Oletuja, Malagasy guitarist Dozzy Njava and accordionist Rabesiaka Jean Medicis. Said’s songwriting mixes traditional tsapiky and salegy music along with elements of American soul and Mediterranean balladry.

Said’s story is something of a triumph: growing up in the Comores Islands with her grandmother, she never knew who her real mother was until she was already in grade school. Her first exposure to music was the salegy songs of the Comores; while still a gradeschooler, she began singing French pop hits and then rock. She moved to Gabon and then France, earned a doctorate in pharmacology and eventually landed in New York where she flirted with several pop styles, unsatisfyingly. This is a return to her roots. The album kicks off with the clip-clop Babonao, a love song (available for free download from Cumbancha), followed by the absolutely gorgeous, wary minor-key ballad Omama, a tribute to motherhood. The band follows that with a lickety-split antiwar song and then the celebratory Salamalama Aby. The best song on the album is the understatedly magnificent epic NY Alantsika (Nature Laments), the first of the numbers sung by Said herself: with its stately 6/8 rhythm and lush atmospherics, it’s a call to action, a gently, compellingly persuasive one.

The hypnotic Slash and Burn takes on a south Indian feel with its circular rhythms and sitar, another gentle but insistent broadside, this one about deforestation: “I heard that the hills were burned away,” muses Said. Koomson and Njava join voices on the distantly melancholy Tsy Tara: “It’s not a malediction, but an urgent call; let’s react now so we won’t regret,” is the translation in the album’s meticulously detailed liner notes. The album winds up with a gentle acoustic guitar ballad, a requiem for an area that once was not a desert; the most Sade-esque number here, Tiaka Ro, a plea to the earth not to unleash disasters on us, and the slinky, West African-inflected wah-guitar anthem Mifohaza (Wake Up). The Clash used to make relevant, topical albums like this: Zebu Nation is considerably quieter but no less timely and important.

July 12, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Ana Moura – Leva-Me Aos Fados

The title of fado sensation Ana Moura’s latest album translates as “take me to the fado club” in Portuguese. What is fado? The national music of Portugal, sad acoustic guitar ballads of lost love and longing typically sung by women. The influence of iconic chanteuse Amalia Rodrigues is everywhere here, from the spiky string band arrangements (although these are significantly pared down), to the way Moura’s slightly breathy voice takes on an insistent, sometimes accusatory edge at the end of a phrase. Which enhances the plaintiveness of the songs (most of them by popular guitarist/producer Jorge Fernando) – fado (Portuguese for “fate”) is all about loneliness and transcending it. Behind her, Fernando’s playing blends seamlessly, often hypnotically with Portuguese guitarist Custodio Castelo, along with Felipe Larsen on electric bass. To say that an album is good to fall asleep to is typically an insult, but as wee-hours music, fado is unbeatable, and this cd fits right in – it’s already gone platinum in Moura’s native land.

Like a lot of stylized genres – blues, funk and reggae to name a few – fado is frequently self-referential. What kind of fado is she singing? She’s feeling fado, she wants to go out to hear some – or sing some. The narrator in the opening title cut just wants to go out and lose herself in the music; in the scurrying dance that follows, she sees her recent breakup as inevitable, in the commercials on tv, in newspaper headlines and even the law. The slow ballad Por Minha Conta (On My Own) ends as “the voice of a silent scream wants to know me.” But all is not despair: the bouncy Caso Arrumado (The End of the Affair) reminds the lover who abandoned her that there will be no second chance, and the concluding cut, Na Palma de Mao (In the Palm of Your Hand) is a warning, essentially, don’t play with me because you’re playing with fire. If most of this sounds much the same, that’s because it’s supposed to: no drum machines, no heavy metal guitar, just plenty of simple poignancy. It’s out now on World Village Music.

May 25, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment