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Brasilian Report

Amália Baraona: Menescantando

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Amáia Baraona Photo by Sofia Lobato
Amáia Baraona - Photo by Sofia Lobato

Though born in Vitoria, Espírito Santo, Brasil, Roberto Menescal is essentially a Carioca—and a famous one, at that. He is often credited with being one of the leading lights of the Bossa Nova revolution in Brasilian music of the 50s when his group accompanied Dorival Caymmi, Vinicius De Moraes, Billy Blanco, Maysa Telles and Carlos Lyra; he was clubbed as one of them and when the secretary of Club Hebraica used the words “Bossa Nova” to describe an event in which they were participating, the name stuck. The rest is history and that includes the wistful music that Roberto Menescal composed into “O barquinho,” his most famous song. Roberto Menescal ought to be a lot more famous than he is outside Brasil (within the country he is almost as legendary as the musicians mentioned above), but like Moacir Santos, Thiago de Mello and many others living outside that great country, he is not. Yet every once and a while a musician comes along to pay homage to musicians such as these.

Here, for instance, is one such homage to Roberto Menescal and it comes in the form of Menescantando, a very poignant study in the browns and golds of that the Carioca in Roberto Menescal’s music represents as well as the moveable feast that all his songs proffers, one after the other. The tribute comes from a young Portuguese singer based in Croatia, Amália Baraona, a vocalist of immense talent; a soprano with a considerable range, with breathtaking annunciation, oblique, angular phrasing and soulful orientation—seemingly perfect for a homage to the great Brasilian composer. Ms. Baraona has the ability to sing slightly lower than soprano—almost in the contralto—range. She uses this pitch as if she were a leaping impala bounding from plane to plane as the dramatic twists and turns of the music demands.

Amália Baraona: Menescantando
Amália Baraona: Menescantando

In Menescantando Ms. Baraona is accompanied by an instrument that wonderfully mimics the voice that it joins in to bring Roberto Menescal’s music to life: that is, the clarinet of her husband and soul-mate, Dinko Stipanicev. The clarinetist plays in a masterful fashion. He creates all the space for his wife’s voice to float gloriously into the air. He is almost native in his musical language, which, in this case just happens to be the language of choro. This is a remarkable ability, to light up the Brasilian fare keeping it in the tradition yet making it new. Most remarkable of all is the fact that two musicians—one from Portugal and the other from Croatia—can inhabit the music of Brasil with such nuance.

Ms. Baraona is magnificent on “Novas Bossas,” beginning the song almost flat, but soon soaring melodiously, like a condor caught in a thermal. She opens the way for Mr. Stipanicev’s clarinet to enter the music and his solo is breathtaking as it mimics her voice almost as if were another human voice. The sensuous tone of the reed brings the clarinet to life and the real-life couple of vocalists and clarinetist channel the fact that they are soul-mates through the experience of voice and instrument in an equally sensuous manner. Ms. Baraona’s performance is outstanding on all twelve tunes. But none is more spectacular in the one that is the true test of her soulful feeling form Roberto Menescal’s music: “O barquinho”. It would seem that the five decades between when the song was written and when it is being sung, are completely stripped away. Moreover, it would seem that Roberto Menescal wrote this legendary and elegiac ballad just for Amália Baraona. The portrait of Roberto Menescal’s celebrated pupil and the muse of Bossa Nova, Nara Leão, “Nara,” is another beautifully wistful piece of music about the wonderful and tragic life of a queen of Brasilian music. Ms. Baraona inhabits this song as if it were hers. Mr. Stipanicev is also exquisitely engaging on the samba “Brasil precisa balançar” and on the carioca ballad, “Perto de você”.

The musicians in Ms. Baraona’s band also inhabit the music is if it were written just for them. Pianist Bruno Montrone is superb as are bassist, Dario Di Lecce and especially drummer Fabio Delle Foglie, who plays the role of a “Brasilian” rhythmist with blithe spirit. It is these musicians as well as the chorus as well as Roberto Menescal, who makes a guest appearance on “Ah se eu pudesse” and on “Nara” who bring the heart and soul of Brasil to this memorable album.

Tracks: Novas Bossas; Pro Menesca; Feliz ano novo-lemanjá da Silva; Ah se eu pudesse; Brasil precisa balançar; Perto de você; Madame quer sambar; Agarradinhos; O barquinho; Nara; Mar amar; Tetê.

Personnel: Amália Baraona: vocals; Bruno Montrone: piano, arrangements (1 – 8, 10 – 12); Dinko Stipanicev: violão, clarinet, backing vocals (1, 9), arrangements (9); Dario Di Lecce: contrabass; Fabio Delle Foglie: drums; Roberto Menescal: guitar (4, 10); Francesca Leone: background vocals; Gemma Caldarola: background vocals; Lianna Grimaldi: background vocals; Marco Giuliani: background vocals; Mary Colucci: background vocals; Simona Regina: background vocals.

Released – 2012
Label – Numérica
Runtime – 46:41

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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