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Mafalda Minnozzi: Sensorial [Portraits in Bossa and Jazz]

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It is rare – very rare indeed – that a foreigner singing Brasilian music in the native Portuguese language could take your breath away as some of the top tier Brasilian vocalists performing these very same songs. There are several reasons why Mafalda Minnozzi does this to you, and right from the first bars that she sings. The first is that she is a vocalist of the first order – and not simply a vocalist, but one who is capable of stunning musicianship, something that she exhibits so naturally and without guile that I suspect that even she is seemingly unaware of what she really is capable of doing; the heights to which she can push herself. But, of course, this is exactly what she does on Sensorial – Portraits in Bossa & Jazz as she channels the music of great Brasilian composers as if they speak to her in the secret of her heart.

Among the most important aspects of her vocalastics that you [if you are Brasilian] cannot but admire is the fact that she “goes native” in her enunciation and diction [even Portuguese singers from Portugal sometimes struggle to pronounce words in the manner in which a native Brasilian does]. At the risk of sounding a tad technical for a moment: there is a preponderance the “sh” sound in the way many words in Portuguese that are enunciated with peculiarity, where the “sh sound’/?/ is unvoiced [the vocal cords do not vibrate during its production], and is the counterpart to the voiced “zh sound” /?/. Miss Mennozzi is as adept as a native speaker in this regard [despite her background in Italian]. Moreover “t” is often also pronounced with the “zh sound” – something only native Brasilians can ever do naturally. Here too Miss Minnozzi makes short work of this seeming not to “sing phonetically” but reading the exact pronunciation extremely naturally [her two decades has indeed paid her handsomely in this regard].

As a vocalist, her technique is sublime; she sings not simply with facility, but with faculties, employing anatomical jurisdictions that only a handful of the top singers [in any style] do; and that includes nasal and chest voices – with potent “diaphragmatic breathing’. Her vocal range is incredibly rare and she is capable of flying into the nether regions of falsetto before swooping down to the basement of contralto. With all of these technical abilities at her command it is also incredible that she knows exactly when to employ a range of these. Along with all of this is her ability to phrase with distinction while employing her emotions to dig into the meaning of each phrase, bringing a special whispering beauty to soft dynamics – as she does in the incomparable Tom Jobim’s “Once I Loved”. Meanwhile the display of her astounding range is evident in “Morro Dios Irmãos” by the great master Chico Buarque.

The ensemble clearly also has a whale of a time performing with her, as she mines the seduction these superb arrangements to the maximum. The performances are superbly idiomatic and clearly each musician is deeply invested in Miss Minnozzi’s artistry and in the music as well. The composition of the group itself is inspired and it is also this fact in turn, which drives the sparkling energy of the music. If there was any pressure to perform at the top of her game Miss Minnozzi is showing none of this as she sings, vocalises wordlessly and makes her way through songs using “vocal percussion” to duel with the musicians and to have you at the edge of your seat – on “Chega de Saudade”, for example.

Anyone who thinks that this hyperbole is itself unwarranted and over-the-top has only to listen to Miss Minnozzi interpret the aforementioned song and then follow that up with a wordless and breathy, version of Djavan’s “Jogral” to listen to just how Miss Minnozzi can perform the most incredible vocalastics… And to follow that up with the most evocative version of Jobim’s “Dindi” from an inspired, exceptionally bluesy arrangement certainly makes all of this music to absolutely die for.

Track list – 1: A Felicidade [interlude – Consolação]; 2: Vivo Sonhando; 3: Morro Dios Irmãos; 4: É Presico Perdoar [intro – Lonnie’s Lament]; 5: Desafinado; 6: Mocidade; 7: Samba Da Benção; 8: Once I loved; 9: Triste; 10: Chega de Saudade; 11: Jogral; 12: Un’Altro Addio; 13: Dindi

Personnel – Mafalda Minnozzi: vocals; Paul Ricci: guitars, baritone guitar [3, 6] and resonator guitar [7]; Art Hirahara: piano; Essiet Okon Essiet: contrabass [2 – 4, 8, 12, 13]; Harvie S: contrabass [1, 5, 6, 9 – 11]; Victor Jones: drums [2 – 4, 8]; Rogerio Boccato: percussion [1 – 6, 8 – 13]; Will Calhoun: udu drum and shaker [7]

Released – 2020
Label – Mama Prod. Art. [MPI 2318]
Runtime – 56:59

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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Featured Albums

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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Roberto Jr. Vizcaino, Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot - Photo Nayeli Mejia
Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot - Photo: Nayeli Mejia.

Listening to the music of Siempre Más Allá, it certainly seems that the young French pianist, Adrien Brandeis has strengthened the belief that he is a proverbial citizen of the Afro-Caribbean universe. To be clear Mr Brandeis still loves all music and swings as hard as any pianist who loves Black American Music – that is, music that you can sing and dance to. But also continues to be beguiled by the rolling thunder of Afro-Caribbean music. The wild call of the rhythms and the joie de vivre of the questing melodies and harmonies not only appeal to his ear, but also speak to him in the hidden parts of his heart.

By his own admission Siempre Más Allá took root during three tours to Mexico undertaken under the aegis of the Fédération des Alliances Françaises du Mexique. The virtually all-Afro-Cuban repertoire of the album radiates charm at every turn. These disarmingly natural and eloquent performances bring out the music’s inherent drama and penchant for tumbao with a deft touch while indulging Brandeis’ lyrical instincts to the full. Meticulously balanced, the four quartet pieces, the trio and duo pieces feel as if they are chamber works. Brandeis’ astonishingly insightful playing is musically captivating and technically blemishless. Each phrase rings so completely true that one can’t imagine the music played any other way.

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

The album features Mr Brandeis and a group of very accomplished musicians. These include the celebrated Cuban percussionist Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot [on two tracks] and his son Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Mexican drummer José Loria Triay make up the wall of percussion. The Brasilian bassist Giliard Lopes brings his distinctive veritas to the whole rhythm section. The big surprise here is, perhaps, the presence of the great Cuban Horacio “El Negro” Hernández sitting in the drum chair on La buena vibra.

Siempre Más Allá is an affirmation of Brandeis’ enduring love and natural affinity for Latin music. Not surprisingly the music seems to echo the famous Latin American phrase: “¡Que rico bailo yo!” [which, in English, exclaims: “How well I dance!”]. This is no hyperbole as the music – in its pulses and rhythms show as Brandeis traverses the rhythmic topography of the Caribbean and Latin America. Along the way Brandeis plunged into the world of changüí, the chacarera, Brasilian gaucho music and the ancient melodic thunder of bàtá drums.

From the get-go listeners will find themselves immersed in quite another world of rippling percussive grooves. The track Ek Bakam, for instance, conjures the intricate architecture; the line and flow of an epic Mayan civilisation located in the Yucatan. Narratives from the Latin world abound – often paying homage to famous traditional musicians. Pancho’s Power is one such chart inspired by the vivid world of the legendary trio Los Panchos. Brandeis gives his percussion section a lot of space when he puts the spotlight on them on Tierra de Oportunidades – a wistful memory of the pianist’s three tours to Mexico, which is also incidentally the popular provincial slogan of the Mexican state of Guanajuato. On Huachi-Huachi Brandeis digs deep into the epicurean delights of the only Latin country in North America with this song in praise of a kind of gourmet Mexican fish: the huachinango.

Brandeis then celebrates his association with percussion colourist Roberto Vizcaíno Jr. with the extraordinary music of Vizcaíno Blues, a piece unique with its exploratory chromaticisms and elegant sonorities that beautifully capture the eloquence of the percussionist in whose praise the music is written. Mindful of the fact that Vizcaíno is Cuban but makes his home in Mexico, Brandeis shapes the rhythmic and harmonic palette of the piece accordingly. On La Buena Vibra Brandeis delivers astonishing pianistic fireworks in the piece’s melodic and harmonic lines, played at a frenetic pace, to mirror the style of its dedicatee, Michel Camilo. The pianist demonstrates an authentic home-grown grasp of Cuban music as he reimages Voy a Apagar la Luz, by the legendary and late-singer Armando Manzanero, here adapted as a wistful solo piano work. Meanwhile on the dizzying ride of Humpty Dumpty the pianist pays homage to another idol: Chick Corea, by revisiting the sparkling composition of the recently-deceased piano maestro.

It is hard not to be mesmerised by this spirited and finely nuanced music artfully crafted in an album by Adrien Brandeis, a pianist who is about to take the world by storm with a recording that is going to be one of the finest by any musician located outside the Latin American sub-continent.

Deo gratis…

Tracks – 1: Huachi Huachi; 2: Alegría; 3: Pancho’s Power; 4: Ek balam; 5: Un peu d’espoir; 6: Vizcaíno’s Blues; 7: Tierra de oportunidades; 8: Humpty Dumpty; 9: La buena vibra; 10: Voy a apagar la luz

Musicians – Adrien Brandeis: piano; Giliard Lopes: contrabass; José Loria Triay: drums; Roberto Vizcaíno Jr: congas and bàtá drums. Featuring Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot: percussion [1, 6]; Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums [9]

Released – 2022
Label – Mantodea Music Productions
Runtime – 58:25

YouTube Video – Adrien Brandeis – Siempre más allá (EPK)

YouTube Audio – Adrien Brandeis – Vizcaíno’s Blues

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