February 4, 2009

Samba de Janiero

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Sunday afternoon, several Brazilian-influenced ensembles regaled Barnes Hall with the sounds of the Brazilian night in the Music Department’s Noite Brasileira. The audience, out perilously close to Superbowl kickoff, filled the whole of Barnes Hall, and by general consensus, I’d say they got their money’s worth (more than, actually, since the concert cost a wallet-breaking zero dollars).
Three groups performed Sunday — Deixa Sambar (“Let Them Samba”), Dois no Choro (“Two in Choro” — “choro” being a particular strain of samba), and Remeleixo (Portuguese for “style” or “finesse”). Each group had something unique to offer, and though all three were very different, it was explicitly acknowledged that this was the point. The idea of the concert was to give three snapshots of what an evening of music in Brazil might actually be like. Cool.
First to perform was Deixa Sambar, a 13-piece percussion and guitar ensemble made up of Ithaca community members, both Brazilian and wildly non-Brazilian. Deixa Sambar had two guitars, a stand-up bass, three female and one male vocalist, as well as a large variety of drums, shakers and traditional Brazilian instruments (and a lot of enthusiastic dancing). The group focuses on the samba of the people — pagode for the backyard and the bars, and samba enredo, a staple at the world-renowned Carnaval. My favorite song, “Ilu-Ayê,” about following the “simple life,” featured an intricate and catchy percussion, enthusiastic clapping and a really nice female vocal melody.
True to form (though I confess I have never been to Brazil) their greatest asset lay in their intricate and unusual percussion stylings, and their own very obvious enjoyment. The audience could feel how much the group was loving the music it was making, and consequently, we loved it too. “Samba of the people” felt right to me, because, even in Barnes’ small, serious concert hall, the music conjured a sense of joy, and of community.
Second up was Remeleixo, made up of virtuoso guitarist Pablo Cohen and equally wonderful soprano saxophonist Steven Mauk, both professors at the Ithaca College School of Music. These two were awesome to watch — two amazing musicians in their own right. The sound of the sax and the guitar blended incredibly smoothly, neither overpowering the other, but allowing both sounds to come through, and occasionally for one or the other to shine.
Remeleixa played a samba style known as chorinho, with a focus on classical pieces. The two played beautifully, but the music itself was beautiful as well, lyrical but always changing, repeating little themes within a melody continually morphing, moving to the next level. The playing was exquisite (calling to mind the literal incarnation of the Beatles lyric, “while my guitar gently weeps”); the music gentle and sad, but simultaneously rejoicing in itself.
In one piece, Mauk aped a drum beat (with brushes, that is) by blowing air through the sax without sounding an actual note; in another, the duo was joined by a percussion section in the flesh — two members of Deixa Sambar, on a low drum and tambourine, enhancing but not overpowering the delicate playfulness of the song (though the drummer did get a little overenthusiastic for a few measures). The performance featured a number of classical Brazilian samba artists, including composers Anibal Augusto Sardinha and Hermeto Pascoal.
The final performers were Chicago guitar and vocalist Paulinho Garcia and flutist Julie Koidin — Dois no Choro. The group, which just finished recording a CD entitled Asa Branca (White Wind), had an aesthetic similar to that of Remeleixa but focused on simpler and more pop-like tunes. The overlay of rhythms and melodies between the guitar and flute was intriguing and Garcia’s vocals had a soothing, almost sensual ethereal quality, that brought Brazil at night immediately to mind. Although Remeleixa was a hard act to follow, Dois no Choro did it well: the flute riffs were impressive, the vocals stellar and the music neverending — Garcia would play even as he waxed eloquent about the composer of the next song.
The duo played 11 songs, including a number by composer Pixinguinha (pish-ii-gine-ya … I think), one composed by Garcia himself for his now 27-year old daughter Paula, and one called Na Gloria (“In Gloria”) in which the whole audience was called upon to participate, though, I must say, we did not deliver very well.
All in all, it was an enjoyable concert, not least because the players’ own enjoyment was clearly visible on each of their faces, which made us want to join in, or at shake our groove things (by which I mean, tap our toes). I would highly recommend all three groups: if you want to get up and dance, Deixa Sambar is for you, if you want classical samba, there can’t be much better than Remeleixa, and if you want to sing along to lively Brazilian music, get Dois no Choro on the line.