Thursday, November 10, 2005

Flagey do Brasil #2: Orfeu Negro / Vinicius Cantuária Quartet - 10/11/2005, Brussels

I wonder what it was like to see Orfeu Negro back in 1959, when it came out. There are the omnipresent samba rhythms, the vivid colours, the in-your-faceness of the characters, the carnaval (which makes the lead characters' mythical baggage seem commonplace: their neighbours dress up as Versailles-era courtisans, the morgue scene hints at other dramas played out that same night), the rampant sexuality, the two kids scurrying around frantically, the beauty of the melody of "Manha de carneval," Breno Mello's awesome virility that allows him to pull off the gold Spartacus look, the beauty of Eurydice and Mira, the gap-toothed masses. It must have been quite a shock. But there's also the slightly disjointed plot, the hint of condescension (the people dancing as the ferry backs into the port) and, in this particular case, the haphazard subtitles that were often hard to read and went missing altogether when the translator deemed the dialogue tangential to the main plot.

Vinicius Cantuária - g, voc
Michael Leanhardt - tp, elec, perc
Paul Socolow - el b
Paulo Braga - d

Cantuária had even more trouble filling Studio 4 than Hermeto Pascoal (aka Flagey do Brasil #1), so the ushers asked those of us in the cheap seats to move forward. As is sometimes the case, the absentees missed a magnificent concert full of music to drift and dream to, where the odd xylophone note rang out and seemed miraculous. The only thing they didn't miss was the fifth member of what was billed as a quintet, as the percussionist didn't show up.

I remember reading in an interview (maybe with Caetano Veloso) that Brazilians tend to have a more amateur approach to music than, say, Cubans. That feeling came through in Cantuária's classic bossa nova-limited-male-crooner voice and the particularly laid-back and effortless atmosphere the music created. However, it took a lot of precision and cleverness to sustain the illusion. Leanhardt was incredibly attuned to the leader's voice: Cantuária would sing at a barely-audible volume and draw mere sketches of melody; Leanhardt amplified the voice, filled in the colors and shaded the lines, remaining supremely lyrical throughout and at just the right volume.

The grooves varied between samba-based early-70s-style jazz-rock (helped along by Leanhardt's discrete sampler effects, Socolow's oscilloscope squiggles and Cantuária's prolonged chords), a creampuff light hand-rub rhythm that accompanied a spare rendition of "Corcovado," bossa nova and others I don't know the names of. They got heavier at times: a dancing Afro-rhythm, a slow straight-eight back-beat that wanted to be a shuffle.

The general quietness distorted aural perspective: towards the end, when Cantuária sang at "normal" volume, he seemed to be belting. Similarly, you could almost be forgiven for not noticing the guitarist's solos: the delicate lines, occasional harmonic suprises and plucked chords tended to be eclipsed by, or, perhaps, hide behind, the bass riff. During the well-deserved second encore, Leanhardt created a very cool fake-electronic effect by whistling the xylophone notes he was playing. Cantuária had the crowd trade vocalese with him and Braga before sending us off into the peaceful night.