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Clarice Assad: Window to the World – A Tribute to Milton Nascimento

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Composer, Vocalist, Multi-Instrumentalist Clarice Assad
Composer, Vocalist, Multi-Instrumentalist Clarice Assad. Photo: Marcelo Macaue

At the time of writing this critique this recording will have been almost three years old. However, the music of the celebrated Brasilian artist Milton “Bituca” Nascimento is timeless. And so, indeed, is any music created and produced by the prodigiously gifted Clarice Assad, third generation of a fabled Brasilian musical family. So, the statute of limitations ceases to apply to this recording Window to the World – A Tribute to Milton Nascimento.

I would wager a guess that among living Brasilian musicians no musician has received more recorded tributes than the inimitable Mr Nascimento. The word ‘legendary,’ though often bandied about when it comes to Brasilian musicians – alive or no longer alive – has little meaning. Miles Davis rightly scorned the term saying that it only belonged ‘to dead cats.’ But few Brasilians alive today deserve it – even among such stellar lights as Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and Ivan Lins. Mr Nascimento [and perhaps Chico Buarque, Hermeto Pascoal and Egberto Gismonti – each for varied reasons, of course] are worthy of that term.

Clarice Assad: A Tribute to Milton Nascimento - Window to the World
Clarice Assad: Window to the World – A Tribute to Milton Nascimento

Mr Nascimento is part of the pantheon of Brasilians – along with Tom Jobim and Moacir Santos [both long gone] – who has left an indelible on music and musicians from those in Brasil as well as elsewhere – such as in the USA and Japan. The late Wayne Shorter, the vocalists of Manhattan Transfer and the musicians of the Japanese Choro Club have helped make him a household name in the latter countries, no small achievement. Add to that the fact that Mr Nascimento is worshipped and adored in his native Brasil, and it adds up to a fabled, enviable reputation.

Which brings us to Clarice Assad. As a composer she is non pareil – in Brasil as well as in the USA, Europe and further afield. Her music has attracted musicians from such vernaculars as jazz, classical, and she has composed works for stage, pianists, vocalists, and chamber consorts and larger ensembles. But her work – like her artistic persona – is chameleonic, which is to say that while there is no mistaking her artistic persona, each composition is brilliantly crafted to suit its purpose – to adorn forms that are popular or classical in nature.

But Miss Assad pours a little bit of each musical style into these interpretations of Mr Nascimento’s music. Her approach here is that of a composer who has reimagined the work of the latter. Mind you, Mr Nascimento is not Heitor Villa-Lobos, nor does he claim to be. But he defined an era in Brasilian music – like Mr Villa-Lobos, as surely as he does Mr Buarque, Mr Gil and others who revolutionised popular Brasilian music [MPB comes to mind] as well as Vinicius de Moraes, Dorival Caymmi, and Mr Jobim, João Gilberto, and the other titans of Bossa Nova.

The repertoire on this recording cannot cover all of the songbook that was created by Mr Nascimento, but it opens a new portal into his world – hence the title Window to the World. This, says Miss Assad is, according to her, the fabled world of “Bituca.” The recording is, of course, a judicious mix of little-known/performed songs by Mr Nascimento, and two classics, each in consisting of sensual arrangements that glorify the Nascimento canon. The album is built around two of his most famous compositions.

The first delves into the deeply spiritual world that Mr Nascimento inhabited. Appropriately Miss Assad turns in one of the most mystical versions of Milagre dos Peixes [the Miracle of the Fishes]. Hers is a version that combines fantastical flights of vocalastics interspersed into the song’s lyrics, which when put together result in an utterly breathtaking rendition of the song.

Suddenly the Biblical reference to one of Christ’s most notable works where he multiplied a few fish to feed thousands, has new meaning. And it is all in the rendering of the song, which is plaintive, miraculous, and quite breathtaking in a way that breathes a new – and different – life into Mr Nascimento’s song meant to elevate the poor in spirit to the heavens.

Miss Assad also reimagines another classic from the Nascimento canon: Clube da Esquinha nº 1 and 2. Her version brings to life the legendary corner where Mr Nascimento plied his craft, becoming the centre of gravity of a whole movement that grew out of his home town. In both these – as well as in the rest of the repertoire the music may be that of Mr Nascimento’s but make no mistake the mystical aura is indubitably that of Miss Assad’s. In lively – or profoundly heart-soft – rhythmic pulsations of her pianism she is technically astonishing.

As a voice artist she is brilliantly en pointe, sculpting long inventions without gratuitous vibrato. And yet with precision and eloquence she brings her lustrous voice to bear rattling off phrases with passion, grace, and fire. Best of all is the fact that her approach is composer-like. She digs into the meaning of each word and brings endless dynamics to each phrase. It would seem that songs speak to her in the secret of her heart.

This is inspiration for the rest of the performing cast – a stellar group that includes the Danish contingent of drummer Johan Dynnesen, and bassist Jesper Bodilsen, a terrific accordionist Francesco Calí and percussion colourist Keita Ogawa. Best of all she duets with her brother Rodrigo Assad and Muato – two vocalists who assist her in bringing to new life the fabled Clube da Esquinha of Milton “Bituca” Nascimento. Add all of this up and you have a truly memorable recording – one that elevates to the rarefied realm the music of Mr Nascimento as well as the incredibly special musical gifts of Miss Assad.

Deo gratis…

youtube playlist – a tribute to milton nascimento – window to the world

Music – 1. Medley – i: Caxangá, ii: Fé Cega, Faca Amolada, iii: Paula e Bebeto; 2. Canção do Sal; 3. Clube da Esquinha nº 1; 4. Janela para o Mundo; 5. Milagre dos Peixes; 6. Saudades dos Avioes Panair [Conversando No Bar]; 7. Nada Será Como Antes. 8. Clube da Esquinha nº 2; 9. Morro Velho.

Musicians – Clarice Assad: voice and piano, and co-producer; Jesper Bodilsen: bass; Johan Dynnesen: drums and co-producer; Francesco Calí: accordion. Guests – Keita Ogawa: percussion [1, 4]; Rodrigo Assad: voice [3. 8]; Muato: voice [1, 7].

Released – 2021
Label – Vectordisc [052]
[Vectordisc.com]
Runtime – 39:13

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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