Live Brazilian Music: Dori Caymmi at a Jazz Bakery Movable Feast

By Michael Katz

Ruth Price brought The Jazz Bakery back to its once and future home in Culver City this weekend, and Westsiders gratefully filled the Kirk Douglas Theatre to capacity Saturday night for a stunning performance by Brazilian composer/singer/guitarist Dori Caymmi. Caymmi boasts a family lineage that predates the samba and bossa nova movement of Jobim, Bonfa, Joao Gilberto and others. His father, Dorival Caymmi, was one of Brazil’s most enduring songwriters, perhaps best known in this country for “O Cantador” (“Like A Lover”); his siblings, Nana and Danilo, have long been a fixture on the Brazilian scene.

Dori Caymmi

Dori, silver haired now and humorously giving nods to age, has a haunting, darkly romantic voice. Singing almost entirely in Portuguese, he manages to communicate the feelings of loss and yearning almost intuitively. His rich, dark tones draw you into the music and his quartet ably provides the texture to fill in the linguistic gaps.

The first third of the ninety minute concert touched on songs from Dorival Caymmi’s era and beyond. Dori used the familiar melody of Jobim’s “Desifinado” as an opening bridge to “Aquarela Do Brasil.” Ary Barrosso’s anthem has stood up to all manner of interpretation; Caymmi’s is brooding, almost foreboding. He gave way to Bill Cantos on keyboards and synthesizer, and Jerry Watts on electric bass. If you are used to the sometimes lush accompaniment of strings and flutes that have supported Caymmi on his recordings and augmented much of Jobim’s music, the electronics can be a bit jarring at first, but Cantos handled them with a light touch, adding his own vocals later in the set. Mark Shapiro handled the full range of percussion instruments, contributing to the drama inherent in Caymmi’s voicings.

There followed one of Dorival’s compositions, a more upbeat, samba-like tune, and then Jobim’s “Corcovado,” introduced by Caymmi’s spare guitar fingerings, dropping down into a minor chord. Like many of the great Brazilian guitarists, Gilberto in particular, Caymmi uses the guitar in an almost surgical fashion. His performance is less a singer accompanying himself than a duet between voice and strings. Shapiro, in particular, is expert in adding the Brazilian rhythms unobtrusively and on “Corcovado,” Cantos contributed a falsetto vocal, skipping lightly over his keyboard patter.

The middle third of the evening was devoted mainly to Caymmi’s latest CD, Poesia Musicada, which sets to music the poetry of Paulo Cesar Pinheiro. Caymmi performed three songs, all in Portuguese, most of which defied any direct translation – “Estrelo Cinco Pontas” roughly comes to “Five Point Star” — but that was about the extent of it. Still, the romantic tenor of the poetry-set-to-music came through without much need for it. The third song, “Velho Do Mar,” an elegy to the coastal city of Bahia in the era when his father was a young man, communicated a longing for a world left behind that resonates especially well here in Los Angeles.

There were plenty of Caymmi originals left in the program, including “Obsession,” which Sarah Vaughan recorded in 1987 on her Brazilian Romance album (with English lyrics). Caymmi’s rendition, not surprisingly, is dark and dangerous, wordless in parts, with some outstanding keyboard work from Cantos. Toward the end of the set, Caymmi picked up the pace with three numbers from Brazilian Serenata, his 1991 CD that has had the widest following here. Voce Ja Foi a Bahia?, a samba written by his father, turned the mood upbeat, with Cantos again supplying a vocal accompaniment and Jerry Watts utilizing a rounded-off timbre on the electric bass to keep the tone pulsating. Caymmi closed out the set with “Amazon River,” the anthem that begins and ends Serenata, and brought the band back for “Ninho de Vespa,” – literally “Beehive,” a traditional samba-esque tune from the same CD.

All in all, it was a rewarding evening for the jazz-starved Westside. It was great to see the Kirk Douglas theatre filled and we can only hope that the new Bakery will be laying it’s foundation before too long.

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