225: Brad Mehldau, ‘The Falcon Will Fly Again’/Luis Bonfa, ‘Manha de Carnaval’

Posted by jeff on Oct 9, 2015 in Brazilian, Jazz, Song Of the week

Brad Mehldau – ‘The Falcon Will Fly Again’ (2nd part)
Luis Bonfa – ‘Manha de Carnaval’ (2nd part)

Brad Mehldau – ‘The Falcon Will Fly Again’ 
Luis Bonfa – ‘Manha de Carnaval’ 

I’ve long intended to write about ‘The Falcon Will Fly Again’, a favorite track from a favorite album, “Highway Rider” by Brad Mehldau (2009). But I’ve been stumped, as a while back I wrote pretty much all I have to say about Brad in SoTW 094 about his ‘Martha, My Dear’ from “Live in Marciac”. But then I tripped over something very old, which became a very new and fresh and pleasing surprise.

Mehldau plays in numerous settings, and plays markedly differently in each. In the past decade he’s recorded four trio outings; one trio + guitarist Pat Metheney; one as pianist in a quartet with three jazz monoliths (he was 41, the average age of Konitz/Haden/Motian was 80); a duo with a saxophonist; two accompanying a classical soprano in ‘modern art songs’; one solo; one prog-rock piano/drums duo; and one ‘combo’ effort, “Highway Rider”.

Jobim, Bonfa

Jobim, Bonfa

The latter employs a full orchestra and features Joshua Redman on soprano and tenor sax. Mehldau composed, arranged and orchestrated the double CD. Most of the music is in a floating variety of combo settings. Mehldau is constantly probing, reaching out into new sound realms, but never seeking to impress or straining to create new sounds. It’s always about the music itself.

What does he do in ‘The Falcon Will Fly Again’? In both sections the instrumental setting is rhythm piano playing a clear, repetitive riff in some extraterrestrial time signature; soprano playing the wiry, conceptual lead, music for geeks; a supportive bass; and an intriguing rat-a-tat drum, a vaguely Brazilian stream of rim shots—one single tone, lifting the entire ensemble forward effortlessly, gracefully. Brazilian.

61+9wVjRg5L._SX425_But then at 5:42 the piece switches into a different section–again the rhythmic pattern is in π/4. But the melody is the sweetest thing north of Roraima. The same sweet soprano, the same superhumanly complex, lilting drum. Joining in to sing the lead line is a man (Mehldau?) and a charming, grainy children’s chorus.

Why am I struggling so to describe this? Because there’s nothing else like it (I thought). It’s just sweet and captivating in and of itself. It’s ‘just’ beautiful.

And then yesterday I was wandering through my library and took off the shelf “Orfeu Negro”, blew off the dust and put it on the figurative turntable.

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Redman, Mehldau

In 1959, French director Marcel Camus filmed “Orfeu Negro” in a Rio de Janeiro slum during Carnival, a reworking of the Orpheus myth (the archetypical inspired singer who charmed his wife Eurydice out of the clutches of the netherworld) as based on a play by Vinícius de Moraes, who was also a musician in the then-emerging bossa nova scene in Brazil. The film opens with ‘A Felicidade’, a song by a young Brazilian musican (Antonio Carlos Jobim) in a new style, ‘bossa nova’ – a synthesis of ‘samba’, the traditional dance music of the Rio slums, and ‘jazz’. ‘Bossa’ was popular among students and quickly ignited a stylistic fire that is still burning brightly today.

“Orfeu Negru” also includes two iconic bossa nova songs written by Luis Bonfa, ‘Manha de Carnaval’ and ‘Samba de Orfeu’. Both, as well as Jobim’s ‘A Felicidade’, have been recorded thousands of times each.

1268757484_brad-mehldau-highway-rider-2010I walked through my understanding of this period, and the origins of this captivating style, in SoTW 075: João Gilberto, ‘Chega De Saudade’. As I said there, I knew the soundtrack and film of “Orfeu Negro” back in middle school in middle America. How? I guess I had restless tastes even as a kid.

The soundtrack is hardwired in my soul and brain and ears, so much so that it’s not an album I rehear often. But yesterday I did. And listen to this, the latter section of Bonfa’s ‘Manha de Carnaval.

Now listen to this, the latter section of Mehldau’s ‘The Falcon Will Fly Again’.

What to make of this? Damned if I know. Brad listened to Luis, apparently was paying homage to the soundtrack. No one would ever accuse Brad Mehldau of being derivative. He’s so damn original that you want to kiss him when he actually offers you a point of reference.

So, yeah, I’ll give him a sloppy, juicy kiss for all the musical pleasure he’s given me, in heart and in mind, body and soul. And for Mssrs Bonfa, Jobim, Moraes, Gilberto et al – a big obrigado. And may that bossa continue to be nova for another half century and more.

 

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114: Luciana Souza, ‘Morrer de Amor’

Posted by jeff on May 1, 2014 in Brazilian, Song Of the week, Vocalists

The lyrics of this song are in a language I don’t understand, and I know almost nothing about its background. But the rendition is of such utter beauty and unspeakable perfection that it’s emotional eloquence transcends any need for explication. I’m just going to turn off my analytical brain, close my verbose mouth, and hope that you’ll be as moved by it as I am.

It’s ‘Morrer de Amor’ as sung by Luciana Souza, guesting on an album by the composer of the song, Oscar Castro-Neves.

I’ve written about Luciana a number of times recently, and intend to continue to do so. In SoTW 099 I talked about her first CD, a Brazilian jazz CD in which she fronts a quintet as composer-vocalist; I think it’s a great, groundbreaking album, and contemporary vocal jazz would do well to put it at center stage as a model to be devoutly emulated. In SoTW 100 I discussed her two brilliant CDs of duets of Brazilian music with a single guitar. And in SoTW 108 I compared her version of Michael McDonald’s romantic pop ballad ‘I Can Let Go Now’ to the original.  In SoTW 081 I paid tribute to composer-bandleader Maria Schneider’s masterpiece ‘The Pretty Road’ in which Luciana contributes a stunning vocal solo from within the orchestral fabric.

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108: Michael McDonald/Luciana Souza, ‘I Can Let Go Now’

Posted by jeff on Aug 19, 2011 in Brazilian, Rock, Song Of the week

I’m so busy packing my rubber sandals, straw hat and sunscreen for the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat on Sunday that I said I’ll give myself a week off writing SoTW and dip into the archive.

But compulsion is compulsive, right? So let’s tie a quickie into last week’s post on ‘Everything That Touches You’ by The Association. I wrote, “the border between fine music and cheap pop is sometimes fuzzy, even to me, subjectively. So here comes a song. I’m not sure whether I should be shouting its praises or not speaking of it to anyone whose opinion I value.” A week later, I’m not significantly older or wiser. But here’s another pair of sublime/shlock treatments of a sublime/shlock heartwrenching/heartburning ballad that I really don’t know how to understand or digest. Read more…

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100: Luciana Souza, ‘Chorinho Pra Ele’ (“Brazilian Duos”)

Posted by jeff on May 20, 2011 in Brazilian, Song Of the week, Vocalists

Happy Centenary posting, Jeff. I’ve been enjoying it every step of the way. Hope you have as well, and that we’ll all continue to do so for a long time. BTW, some subscribers have noticed that the WordPress notifications are filtered as spam. This needs to be tweaked within your email client.

I know, I wrote about Luciana Souza (b. 1966) just last week, and though she’s not real prominent in the Top 40, we’re continuing with her for a number of reasons. First, the link to ‘Baião à Tempo’, her Song of The Week itself, didn’t work. Thanks for the heads-up from several readers, and I’ve added another cut from her first album “An Answer to Your Silence” (‘3 to 2 in Overtime‘) as punitive damages. Second, Luciana has recorded in a number of distinct styles, each one deserving its own moment. Third, a number of readers got mucho turned on to Ms Souza, and that’s a drug I can’t resist. Fourth, and most importantly–she’s just so damn good.

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