It’s been hard finding time to listen closely to recordings for reviewing purposes because the race in the American League East is getting all consuming as we enter the final weeks of the season. Yes, I’m a baseball fan, and I spend way too many hours each spring, summer, and
early fall watching, listening, and reading about America’s pastime—or what used to be
America’s pastime, before that avatar of American violence and empire, football, mesmerized the masses.
If you, too, are a baseball fan, I can recommend a book I’m reading now, Jane Leavy’s The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood, which my friend Fred Herman lent me. Leavy knows how to write a sentence, and even better, how to string them together. She has the soul of a poet trapped in a sportswriter’s body.
As a Baltimore native, I bleed Oriole orange, and the Skankees make me want to spit.
Nevertheless, this is a book for any baseball fan, and its portrait of Mantle captures in the
background a snapshot of a time long gone that tells us something of ourselves.
Finally, though, despite baseball, I’ve made it to the stereo bench to get a listen to Jazz Brasileiro’s premiere release.
Jazz Brasileiro, Jazz Brasileiro (independent)
Debo Orlofsky (vocals, percussion) and Tony Cesarano (guitar) are members of Saudade, a
quintet that specializes in the contemporary and classic music of Brazil and Cape Verde. The group has a genuine feel for the music, and the live performances that I’ve seen have
emphasized the music’s exuberant, uptempo qualities, what you might call its Carnaval
enthusiasms, almost to the exclusion of the music’s gentler side.
Jazz Brasileiro corrects that
overcorrects it a bit, as
uptempo numbers are few and far between—with warm, sensitive renditions of 11
familiar tunes from Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luiz Bonfá,
Vinicius de Moraes, and
others. In the duo, Orlofsky and Cesarano bring a
different energy, approaching the material with a softness and suavité that I missed in Saudade.
In the larger ensemble, Orlofsky’s vocals have a big, bold, brassy energy, but in the duo, her alto atomizes a warm sensuality that does for the ear what a trace of expensive perfume can do for the nose and the libido. On “Dindi,” you have the sense that you’re engaged in a private
conversation with her, and on the iconic “Garota de Ipanema,” she catches just the right
balance between desire and its sweet disappointment. (She opts to maintain the song’s original heterosexual orientation and, in the verse sung in English at least, sings it in the third person. In order to preserve the rhyme, she drops a grammatical clam: “she looks straight ahead, not at he.” It just clanks in my ear. I can’t help it. It’s the editor in me.) The judicious use of double tracking on her vocals adds a pleasant and surprising note on a few tracks.
Cesarano plays with an understated sensitivity that allows the listener to relax and let the
music come to him, her, them (your choice). His lovely opening to Bonfá’s “Manha de Carnaval,” perhaps the best realized track on the album, is the best I’ve heard him. He has some
particularly fine, nuanced moments on “O Morro,” though I found myself wishing he were a bit lighter on his feet overall on this one. His energetic and original opening on Jorge Ben’s “Mas Que Nada” is surely one reason the track won Best Cover at the 2013 New Mexico Music Awards. Cesarano keeps the music moving forward, and his jazz stylings keep the ear engaged. For the most part, his playing is uncluttered and fluid, even as he negotiates intricate harmonic and rhythmic pathways.
The percussion is spare, just maracas or something similar, but it’s enough in combination with Cesarano’s work to keep the music rhythmically alive. The one exception is “Triste,” whose
tempo is just too slow to capture the music’s inherent lilt.
The album suffers from too great a similarity in dynamics and tempo from one tune to the next, so the tracks begin to bleed together a bit. At most, three numbers might be considered
upbeat. A little more diversity in these quarters would have elevated the experience a notch or two higher. Orlofsky lets it fly a bit on “Mas Que Nada,” with a brighter, livelier vocalization
closer to her work with Saudade—a welcome variation that the album could have used more of.
Overall, though, Jazz Brasileiro provides a satisfyingly intimate experience of the softer side of the Brazilian canon, with a jazz heart.
Update (10/08/14): Debo gently informs me that I was too harsh on her in regard to what I called the “grammatical clam.” She tells me that Astrud Gilberto actually sung it that way on the monster hit she had with Stan Getz back in 1965, and they left it in because they felt it had a sort of charming quality. I can’t confirm that at the moment, but I’ll take her word. Also, I’ve managed to spell Debo’s last name correctly at last.
© 2013 Mel Minter. All rights reserved.