By Cathy Segal-Garcia
Los Angeles, CA. Here I am, sitting in the Kirk Douglas Theatre, waiting for the world-renowned guitarist/vocalist/composer/arranger/producer, Dori Caymmi, to come out to start the show. A beautiful theatre, slanted up seating, with a medium large stage on the floor, the newest and most intimate of Center Theatre Group’s family of theatres.
We scored a seat in the very front center, so I’m pretty turned on because I love being close to musicians. Being a singer, I like to feel up close and personal, feeling like I’m actually part of the band. There’s a stool in the center with an expectant mic, a piano and keyboard, a stool in the center back, and drums. I’m excited!
The group, a quartet, comes out after an introduction from Jazz Bakery founder Ruth Price. Dori’s voice is at once beautiful and distinct. A rich baritone, with depth of emotion that make my insides release. Add that voice to a slow bossa beat, with subtleties of the rhythms and harmonies coming through the players…and it’s romantic and beautiful from the very first moment.
The music is harmonically leading and surprising, which is part of what makes it so amazing to listen to. Within the same song, there are passages of different lengths, that are significantly different, but they relate and flow out of each other and into the next; like a river, running gently and endlessly, around rocks and curves, on and on.
The 2nd song showcased the pianist, Bill Cantos, singing his own keyboard solo… Wonderful! Vocally exciting, and great musical ideas… motifs repeating and developing into an exciting build and gentle drop.
A slow, painfully beautiful “Corcovado” was next. How do the great Brazilian musicians create this gorgeous style, time and again? Dori is having a love affair with the song, with the notes, the way they sit in the harmony, the Portuguese lyrics….
And yet right after, this sweetheart of a man makes a joke relating to his “depressed versions of Brazilian music,” before going into a mind blowing arrangement of “Brazil.” I have never heard or imagined a more beautiful and interesting arrangement. It took me at least 32 bars before I recognized it. The form seemed different, the chords were definitely beautiful substitutions, and even the melody, sung and played by Dori at first, seemed only slightly familiar. At a slow, sensuous groove, with all the rest, it was truly a holy experience.
Jerry Watts on electric bass was a prominent part of the music. A versatile and strong musician, in this setting, as each musician, he held his reins and released at just the right times. Playing his bass like a guitar, his rhythmic choices seemed comfortable and perfect, even with their complexity.
The drummer Aaron Serfaty was unobtrusive in the best way, to say the least. Percussive, as if adding to an orchestra, light and perfectly rhythmic on his small drum set
Dori , soon to be merely 70 (how lucky are we, to be able to hear him more) was relaxed and talkative in between songs…making the audience love him all the more. He talked about his father and mother, Dorival Caymmi and Stella Maris, both famous Brazilian musicians. And an upcoming recording project he will do with his sister (famous vocalist Nana Caymmi) and brother (famous musician Danilo Caymmi)…dedicated to their Dad. Then he played one of his Dad’s hits …”Acontec Que Eu Sou Baiano.” Dorival was known as “the poet of the seas of Bahia.”
It was difficult to make notes while I listened; the music was so touching to the soul and the ears that I didn’t want to be distracted from it. And yet, when I’m excited by music, I want to write about it.
And speaking of making love to the songs…how about making love through the songs? Like a good lover, the music and the musicians find a sensuous wonderful groove, lock into it, stroke it with notes and harmony until, building slowly and gradually, it’s obvious that it must release…
“The Harbor”…(sigh). Dori told a beautiful and sad introduction about the music of his father…about how he would tell about seemingly simple things like stepping on pieces of wood in the water that led to the boats. And how, now, there is no more of that; it’s all been commercialized. Dori wrote “The Harbor” as an ode to the old way.
Brazilian musicians and singers tend to state the melody as written, milking it with the tone of the instrument and the emotion of the voice. That’s why listeners fall in love with the basic songs, with their melody and harmony. American jazz singers, however, learn that the songs of the Great American Songbook were written down very basically. A singer learns them, then changes them – with the phrasing, the melody, the rhythm. And I believe not even the composer expected or desired you to sing it as exactly as it was written.
One gets the idea that Brazilian composers want something else. Or perhaps it’s the culture that leads the performing artists into this kind of musical perspective. A perspective in which the language and flow of the story – via both the lyrics and the music — communicate deeply the imaginative tales of their rich history and culture.
I left the concert with a lovely CD, my soul filled with beauty, and a desire to sing with Dori. The perfect response to a perfect musical evening.
To read more about Cathy Segal-Garcia on her own website, click HERE