Miguel de León: Malandro

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We have always known that Miguel de León can sing with equal facility in both Spanish and Portuguese, which can be a daunting task for native speakers in either language – De León was born and raised in a musical Mexican American family, actually. He has performed music – even a whole album – in Portuguese [and Spanish] before. But on Malandro he raises his game to a whole new level.

This album works well on so many levels. It pays tribute to Mr de León’s love for Brasilian music; something he says [like so many musicians of his generation], he fell in love with many years ago after listening to Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 [“Mais Que Nada”, to be exact]. The whole recording is also an homage to another icon of Brasilian music: Chico Buarque. Its repertoire is taken from Mr Buarque’s seminal Ópera do Malandro, which was – in turn – based on the 18th century opera by John Gay, entitled Beggar’s Opera, which also inspired Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera. And finally, it seems to suggest that Mr De León’s love of Brasilian music goes much deeper than music; into the very heart of Brasilian culture itself.

Mr De León’s version of Chico Buarque’s music is not a facsimile edition of the original. Rather, it is a contemporaneous interpretation; one that could as easily be widely adapted to [for instance] Mexico or any other locale of Mr De León’s fancy. Granted that it is rather true to the original, but it attempts to breathe new life into Mr Buarque’s 1978 original version and give it a kind of universal; somewhat popular appeal [as opposed to Mr Buarque’s rather classic version].

To modernise it Mr De León brought in what is clearly his A game helmed by an A-Team led by the inimitable Brasilian composer and pianist David Feldman, who arranged and produced the album. The musicians too form a constellation of young stars from the urban Brasilian musical landscape and include such fine musicians as Leila Pinheiro, violão-player Lula Galvão, bassist Guto Wirtti and the great Brasilian drummer Márcio Bahia, saxophonist Leo Gandelman and trombonist Serginho Trombone as well. The fabulous Brasilian a capella choir Ordinarius appears on three tracks “A Volta do Malandro”, “Sambista Malandro” and “Coração de Malandro”.

In my opinion the fact that the magnificent vocalastics of group is barely tested [they appear as a choral back-up who sing fairly “straight” harmonies] is probably the only misstep in this production. Despite this blip, Miguel de León does pull off a near miracle with Malandro and we shall be waiting to see what comes next from an artist of considerable musical gifts.

Track list – 1: A Volta do Malandro; 2: Em Vão; 3: Sambista Malandro; 4: Tu És; 5: A Voz do Morro; 6: Ele Ama; 7: Reencontro; 8: Lamento para um Malandro; 9: Homenagem ao Malandro; 10: Coração de Malandro; 11: In Vain; 12: My Brother, My Friend

Personnel – Miguel de León: vocals; David Feldman: piano and arrangements; Guto Wirtti: bass; Lula Galvão: violão; Márcio Bahia: drums; Sidinho Pereira: percussion; Ian Moreira: percussion; Eduardo Neves: flute [1]; Leo Gandelman: saxophone [6]; Serginho Trombone: trombone; Iura Ravensky: violoncello [8]; Leila Pinheiro: vocals [4]; Luciano Antonio: vocals [7, 11]; Ordinarius – Alice Sales, André Miranda, Augusto Ordine, Leticia Carvalho, Maíra Martins, Marcelo Saboya: vocals [1, 3, 10]

Released – 2020
Label – Fina Flor
Runtime – 53:06

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