The Jazz.com Blog
March 31, 2008 · 0 comments
In Jean-Luc Godard’s film Les Carabiniers, two soldiers return home to their wives after years away – with a suitcase full of booty from their travels. Imagine the disappointment of the spouses when they discover that the much prized contents are . . . just picture postcards. Hundreds of them, depicting monuments, scenery, city streets, works of art, and the like.
What were they expecting, gold and diamonds? Get real! Nothing represents the triumph of successful traveling these days with more pride and permanence than the photos you bring back.
Except for me. I traveled extensively during the 1990s, visiting some 25 countries on five continents. But the most cherished acquisitions that I carried home were . . . compact disks. I tried to sample the local music wherever I went. Sometimes I only brought back experiences – being forced on-stage to perform Beatles music at a provincial wedding in Chung Li in Taiwan; finding an unbelievably patient bagpipe teacher in Scotland; sitting in with the legendary Peace Hotel band in Shanghai. These are now just memories, without even a photo to validate their occurrence. The more tangible booty from my trips came in digital format, CDs that I still enjoy these many years later.
I would prowl music stores in Jakarta or Caracas or Sydney or elsewhere, trying to find something that I couldn’t get back home. Sometimes I would uncover the musical equivalent of diamonds and gold, get an unexpected introduction to bambuco or dangdut or some other new aural twist on those same old twelve notes of the scale. Other times I would walk away with disappointing fare, little better than Muzak. But the surprises and unpredictability contributed to much of the fun and excitement of my CD gathering expeditions.
Of all these countries, Brazil had the rarest treasures. I made several trips to Rio, and was invariably struck by the depth and quality of the music. Back home, most people would have heard little more than the bossa nova classics. Indeed, only a few adventurous souls (mostly musicians and jazz fans) would even have discovered the work of Milton Nascimento or Ivan Lins or Elis Regina. But there was so much more to enjoy: instrumentalists Hermeto Pascoal and Egberto Gismonti (two of the finest jazz musicians of recent decades), under-rated singers Martinho da Vila or Luiz Melodia or Leny Andrade, outstanding guitarists such as Nonato Luiz or Toquinho or Roberto Menescal, rock and pop acts Cássia Eller (the Brazilian equivalent of Janis Joplin) or Djavan, and of course the MPB stars Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Jorge Ben Jor and Chico Buarque. Then there were a host of talented artists of various styles, Marisa Monte, Carlinhos Brown, Gal Costa, Edu Lobo, Sivuca, . . . all the way back to old-timers such as Pixinguinha and Cartola. And these names only scratch the surface.
For many years, I have been expecting – perhaps hoping is a better word – that this music will somehow become better known in the United States. So you will understand that, when I heard that Karrin Allyson was releasing a CD of Brazilian music, I immediately began wondering which of the many over-looked Brazilian songwriters she would champion.
Imagine my disappointment when I saw that most of the songs on her CD were composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Don’t get me wrong. I admire Jobim, and consider him one of the half-dozen or so greatest songwriters of the 20th century. I was delighted when Rio named its international airport after the composer. His songs are textbook examples in how to construct smart chord progressions married to great melodies. But surely his music has been well picked over by singers for the last fifty years. And Karrin Allyson has been so daring in selecting material for her varied recording projects. The last thing one expected from her was bossa nova redux.
But to Allyson’s credit, she has not taken the familiar Jobim classics. There is no “Girl from Ipanema” or “Wave” or “Meditation” or “How Insensitive” or “Corcovado” on this CD. The only Jobim hit is her version of “Desafinado.” Instead we are treated with little known gems, such as “Correnteza” or “Estrada Branca” or the title track “Imagina.”
I am especially impressed by the ease with which Allyson moves back and forth from English to Portuguese, and it is even clear to these Yankee ears that she has taken great care with her enunciation and phrasing of the Brazilian idiom. I would be interested to hear what a Brazilian native would say about her singing, but I suspect she gets high marks for authenticity. Allyson’s fan have grown accustomed to her clear, heartfelt rendition of lyrics, with no wasted flourishes or empty gestures, and she delivers again on this release.
So I give Allyson high marks for Imagina. But I still haven’t forgotten all those great Brazilian songwriters who deserve more visibility outside their home country. Perhaps Karrin will give us a more adventurous Imagina II?
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia.