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Vinicius Cantuaria with Bill Frisell and Marivaldo Dos Santos

Vinicius Cantuaria with Bill Frisell and Marivaldo Dos Santos, Ronnie Scott’s, London, 12/01/2011.

by Tim Owen

January 17, 2011


Frisell splices the Brazilian's music with shards of the most sublime New York noise, and their collaboration is all about the interplay between the essentials of their respective styles.

Vinicius Cantu?ria with Bill Frisell and Marivaldo Dos Santos

Ronnie Scott’s, London


Vinicius Cantu?ria and Bill Frisell are intimately familiar with each other, having guested on one anothers’ recordings at least since Frisell guested on Cantu?ria’s second international album release, “Tucum?”, in 1999. Among numerous other subsequent collaborations, the Brazilian was a key player in Frisell’s Intercontinentals band. Their close collaboration on songs for the new “L?grimas Mexicanas” album, and consequently these two nights at Ronnie Scott’s, was long overdue.

The songs, all written by Cantu?ria, are in his trademark subtle, supple bossa nova style. All are sung in Portuguese or Spanish, and they are about as seductive as song gets, even though Cantu?ria may be singing, as he sometimes does, about football. That’s perhaps unlikely though, since “L?grimas Mexicanas” was inspired by Cantu?ria’s life in New York (he relocated there in the mid 90s), and by his reflections on the lives lived by earlier Mexican and South-central American migrants in the North. Frisell splices the Brazilian’s music with shards of the most sublime New York noise, and their collaboration is all about the interplay between the essentials of their respective styles, both being modernists with explicit connections to the popular music traditions of their respective home countries.

Frisell thrives in collaboration, and often contributes his best playing to other’s projects (think of those early Don Byron or Paul Motian Trio albums), while Cantu?ria has hosted on his own recordings artists as diverse as Ryuichi Sakamoto and Arto Lindsay. It’s perhaps surprising that Lindsay and Cantu?ria never collaborated like this, but Lindsay’s guitar playing is too abrasive, and entirely lacking Frisell’s occasional melodious and sentimental aspects. It’s the steel in the velvet that makes Frisell’s sound perfect for this job. Cantu?ria’s song structures are flexible enough not just to invite Frisell’s fissile extrapolations but to envelop and develop from them into hybrid forms that nonetheless relinquish nothing of their original essence. Frisell’s signature effects manipulations may not have evolved a great deal over the years, but they’ve rarely been deployed with as much subtlety as they were here. His soundings ran the gamut from earthy blues vamps to vaporous curlicues of pure electronic sound.

Cantu?ria is a deft percussionist in other contexts, and through his guitar he imparts to “L?grimas Mexicanas”, as in all his work, an irresistible sense of rhythm. For these live shows, however, percussion duties were delegated to Marivaldo Dos Santos, on congas and sundry other small percussion instruments. Dos Santos was superb throughout, striking a perfect balance between supportive playing and dynamic initiative. He was kept a little too tightly in rein throughout the first set, which suffered from a lack of variation; an excess of sonic seduction proved somewhat soporific. Fortunately the second set was more varied, with Dos Santos given a freer rein, and the welcome upbeat mood shift occasioned by his first exuberantly percussive flurry was loudly applauded. By far the majority of songs were begun by Cantu?ria before being tweaked open by or for Frisell, the two guitarists gave one second-set number a notably looser treatment, moving through a series of extrapolations that took them into new regions of tonality. As he had done throughout, Cantu?ria exercised a figurative economy that Frisell was explicitly invited to embellish. The more open form of this number resulted in a new form of dialogue that was potentially open ended but always carrying a trace of the song-source with which it never lost touch. For my own tastes, the show may have benefited from more moments such as this, but it was no doubt wise not to take things too far, too often, from that essential Bossa Nova.

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