Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 9/9/11

Every day, under ideal circumstances at least, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #508:

Amalia Rodrigues – Com Que Voz

The best-known and most influential singer in the world of fado – the sad ballads considered to be the national music of Portugal – was 49 when she made this album in 1969. It’s a collection of iconic Portuguese poems set to music by her longtime musical director Alain Oulman, who gets credit for expanding her sound to include styles from all over Europe. The sonics are lushly orchestrated but not cheesy, and Rodrigues’ steely, resolute, plaintive voice is in top form, through the bitter expatriate anthem Trova Do Vento Que Passa (Tradewinds); a remake of her 1961 hit Maria Lisboa; ballads like As Mãos Que Trago (I Give You My Hand); the stately title track, swaying Gaivota and Formiga Bossa Nova; the haunting Cuidei Que Tinhas Morrido (I Saw That You Died) and Naufragio (Shipwreck); nostalgic Havemos de Ir a Viana (Back to Vienna), Madrugada de Alfama (Alfama Morning) and Meu Amor, Meu Amor. Everything else Rodrigues did before this point is also worth seeking out, if your taste runs to quiet, emotionally vivid songs, Portuguese not required. Most of this album is streaming at myspace; here’s a random torrent.

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September 9, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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: 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

CD Review: Cesaria Evora – Nha Sentimento

Arguably Cesaria Evora’s best album. If this is her September song, it’s a hot September. Then again, the legendary Cape Verde chanteuse has been singing September songs for the past 25 years – she’s had plenty of practice. As with Portuguese fado, the mornas of her native land off the coast of Africa traditionally have a sad undercurrent, but there’s another level of melancholy here since her childhood friend and longtime songwriter Manuel de Novas died earlier this year after providing her with a few last songs, which are represented here. As Evora’s publicist memorably observed, Cape Verde is a “melting pot on a Bunsen burner.” Like other ports, its music has been enriched by generations of seafarers and the cultures they brought with them, perhaps explaining why Evora’s most recent work has been so widely traveled as well – previous albums have blended Cuban, Brazilian and African sounds into her signature ballads. This time around, she and her producers enlisted a crew of Egyptian musicians on several tracks, which, rather than Arabizing the music, adds the intriguingly ominous textures of oud and kanun (Arabic zither) along with ney flute and a string section. Vocally, Evora brings her signature style, resolute and understated with a tinge of smoke. She’s been called the Billie Holiday of Cape Verde and while stylistically the two singers don’t have much in common, neither ever had to turn up the volume to make a point.

Most of the songs here have a brooding minor-key melancholy. De Novas’ compositions typically favor latin melodies and rhythms, the first fast and swirling with almost a soca beat; another lit up by a simple, percussive electric guitar solo; and a warmly evocative, blues-inflected wee-hours piano ballad with a tricky false ending. The songs with the Egyptian orchestra share a stark intensity, especially the plaintive title track with the strings taking a graceful but ominous cascade down the chromatic scale and the stately tango Vento de sueste (Southeast Wind) with its reverberating kanun and violin.Ironically, Evora’s darkest vocal – and the one place on the album where she shows her age – is on the gorgeous Noiva de Ceu (Girlfriend from the Sky) with its lush bed of acoustic and electric guitars and vivid violin intro/outro. The rest of the album includes an upbeat, Afrobeat-inflected number, a couple of haunting, continental-flavored, accordion-driven tunes and a song that could almost pass as merengue. After all these years, Cesaria Evora is still pushing the envelope.

November 13, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Mariza – Terra

Terra, the fifth album by Portugal’s “Queen of Fado” coincides with a marathon 47-city US tour kicking off on Valentine’s Day in Chicago which should vault the chanteuse from cult status here [scroll down to the next paragraph if you’re familiar with fado music]. Fado, meaning “fate” is the national music of Portugal, dark, troubled ballads sung by women with an ache in their voices. Fado is characterized most overtly by “suadade,” a uniquely indigenous term whose translation falls somewhere between angst, longing and sentimentality, all qualities which show up here in droves. On this album, Mariza is backed by a tasteful acoustic backing unit including six- and twelve-string guitar, upright bass, piano and drums. There’s a little bolero feel here as well as a somewhat noir cabaret sensibility and a few songs that stray toward more modern pop territory, with the omnipresent twelve-string adding an otherworldly, eerily ringing edge.

As can be expected, laments comprise much of this cd, most notably Já Me Deixou (Now It’s Left Me) and Alma De Vento (Soul of the Wind), with their dark swaying relentlessness. The most striking number on the album is Beijo De Saudade (Sentimental Kiss), its catchy 12-string melody set against restrained muted trumpet, the vocals getting all smoky on the second verse. It’s based on a poem by a famous Cape Verde poet, written as he lay dying in his hospital bed in Portugal, badly missing his native land. There’s also more upbeat material including the bouncy Rosa Branca (White Rose), whose narrator finds she’s danced so much that the flower she’s been wearing has fallen to pieces: “If you love roses so much why don’t you love me?” she inquires exasperatedly. As can be expected, the strongest songs here are the more traditional numbers: when they edge toward a more overtly commercial, contemporary American sound, both singer and band sound a little out of their element. The cd ends on a particularly haunting note with Morada Aberta (My Door Is Open), where Mariza asks the river to rise up and wash away every physical and metaphorical trace of the past.

There’s also a “secret” track here, an English-language cover of the old pop standard Smile that doesn’t add anything. That one song aside, this music is nothing if not edgy. If the whole American noir crowd, i.e. your Nick Cave, Botanica and Dresden Dolls fans can be wooed, Mariza will have a massive crossover fan base on her hands. Here’s to casting the first stone. Mariza’s American tour kicks off on 2/14 at 8 PM at Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago.

February 3, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment