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Brazil’s Muiza Brings Mezzo-like Warmth to Moacir Santos

Muiza Sings Moacir CD cover Muiza Adnet Sings Moacir Santos is one of those recordings where the promise of something exceptional in the first phrases is fully born out by all that follows. From start to finish, in well-loved pieces, and in others that will be new discoveries to many, various finely-honed ensembles work in close concord with the heart and genius of the maestro’s music, unerringly capturing its soul and universal spirit.

In this collection, Muiza Adnet, choosing to go for a special intimacy with the listener, unselfconsciously confines herself to what lies naturally within her scope. Spurning the overly decorative, she sings simply with a kind of detachment that calls attention to the lyrics’ meaning. The miracle of this CD is that although Adnet’s musicality often exceeds her voice’s natural limits, her warmth communicates itself, the playing is engaging and the musical settings are evocative.

Arranger/producer Mario Adnet, a musician who keeps a fierce commitment to the heart of Moacir’s music and who has an astonishing ear for timbre and texture, is interested in the individual balance between scored and improvised sections. He draws a seemingly impossible degree of detail from the relatively small forces at his disposal with pithy arrangements that range from light washes of sound to muscular, vigorous backdrops.

From the very first notes of “Ciranda” you know you’re in for a special experience as you sense Muiza’s refined tone allied to her eloquent phrasing. The flow of Mario’s arrangement and the musicians’ rapport, an image complemented by Marcos Nimrichter’s plasticity on accordion and Andrea Ernest Dias’s grace on piccolo, are a consistent stimulation that rewards repeated hearings. Outstanding too, are Moacir and Muiza’s (multi-tracked) delicately embroidered backing vocals.

“Off and On” is a tune featuring lyrics that traverse the wry philosophical detachment of romantic whimsy and the mojo rhythmic groove developed by Santos, which some mistakenly consider a form of maracatu. Eduardo Neves wails on tenor sax, keeping the dialogue with a decidedly hot rhythm section bubbling away. At a time when it can be difficult to find a tenor player who diverges from the John Coltrane-Michael Brecker style, Neves comfortably follows his own muse.

On “Early Morning Love,” a light baião, Gabriel Grossi, mingling his sophisticated sound and interpretive insight with Muiza’s tonal beauty, shows why connoisseurs regard him as Brazil’s most important and influential harmonica player since Maurício Einhorn. His solo is perfectly complemented by Gabriel Improta (electric guitar) and Rafael Barata (drums) who deserve special mention for their arresting sensitivity throughout.

Exploiting both the improvisational latitude of samba-jazz and the infectious percussion commonly associated with Afro-Brazilian music, “Nanã” (instrumentally known as “Coisa N° 5”) showcases the textural variety, impressive punch, and harmonic originality of Mario Adnet’s woodwind scoring. Pianist Gabriel Geszti is given a setting which perfectly suits his angular melodic conception. Soloing with subtle, shifting densities and dark harmonic color, his attack and bite are beyond reproach.

The samba “Se Você Disser Que Sim,” originally recorded by Elizeth Cardoso with lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes, ushers in another vividly colored woodwind soundscape. The siblings’ vocals dovetailing, punctuating, and extemporizing with this arrangement is marvelously refreshing, and Mario’s “in-the-pocket” backing on acoustic guitar is at once supportive and individual, an amalgam of technical perfection and fluid musicality.

With its emotive setting and poignant lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes, the ballad “Lembre-se” wrings full emotional capital. Marcos Nimrichter builds a rapport with Muiza that is a model of how to accompany a singer without stealing the limelight, yet to play piano so ravishingly choro-like as to command attention. Ricardo Silveira, a guitar player of great imaginative resources in every musical situation, is outstanding. His ear for harmonic detail and willingness to spin a line further than usual or land it in an uncommon place provides revelatory listening.

Staying in the memory well past the end of the track, “A Santinha lá da Serra” comes from the procissão, or religious march. The scoring, delicate and effervescent, features Hugo Pilger on cello, his rubato perfectly judged and never for a moment interfering with the tune’s sense of forward flow; the poetic introspection of Marcos Nimrichter’s accordion; and an intimate and ethereal trio of voices – Muiza Adnet, Moacir Santos, and Milton Nascimento. And nobody seems to want to interrupt the magic.

Then the general temperature gets a little higher on “This Life,” an up tempo baião that gives Muiza’s sense of line and phrase a workout, still she goes to the heart of the matter singing with such poise and assurance that one capitulates at once. Zé Nogueira (soprano sax), and Eduardo Neves (flute) meld their melodies with precision and dash to create a sensual and exciting mix; their solos beautifully articulated, are full of vim and delivered with style and panache.

Never before recorded, “Wake Up and Smile” is a refreshingly transparent waltz infused with a variation of the mojo rhythm. Muiza is fortunate in having the backing of such skilled musicians as Gabriel Geszti, whose piano imparts an attractive buoyancy to the overall sound, his soloing, fluent and tasteful; and Gabriel Improta, who shows he can lace the most lilting tune with tart poignancy. The fine weave of line and color between alto flute and cello is a pleasure in its own right.

On “April Child,” a mojo-samba that characterizes the optimistic, spirit-lifting universality of Moacir’s music, Muiza incorporates her customary expressiveness and energy. Gabriel Geszti (piano) and Gabriel Grossi (harmonica) solo imaginatively, and Dirceu Leitte’s clarinet adds a distinctive color. “Tomorrow is Mine,” a baião rich in nuance and subtlety, is marked by Marcos Nimrichter’s accordion exuberance and Muiza’s blending with the honeyed tone voice of Ivan Lins.

The religious title of the infectious closer, “Marchinha dos Santos Glória” (March of the Saints’ Glory), is only one of mock-solemnity. Says Mario Adnet, “Moacir, tongue in cheek, is wordplaying with his name and the name of the neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro where he lived – Glória.” Offering something compelling but rather different, Muiza’s wordless vocals gel effortlessly with Geszti’s piano, catching the mood, the meaning, and Moacir’s concept.

Here, in a CD dedicated to Moacir Santos, who passed away shortly after these sessions were completed and whose gentle spirit and extraordinarily fertile imagination preside over the music, we have an ideal partnership: Muiza Adnet’s plangent mezzo-soprano, gently vibrating voice beautifully supported and encouraged by her brother’s intuitive and discerning, wholly responsive arrangements.

Captured with a sense of immediacy at Rio de Janeiro’s Mega Studios, Muiza Adnet Sings Moacir Santos, is faultlessly balanced and acoustically right, with voice and instruments forward, yet never obtrusively so. Achieving the appropriate atmosphere and perspective, a depth and simplicity, and at times luminous serenity, this disc is an excellent demonstration of the rare empathy, the close artistic rapport, that exists between these two superlative champions of Moacir Santos.

Journalist, musician, and educator Bruce Gilman has served as music editor of Brazzil magazine, an online international publication based in Los Angeles, for more than a decade. During that time he has  written scores of articles on the most influential Brazilian artists and genres, program notes for festivals in the United States and abroad, numerous CD liner notes, and an essay, “The Politics of Samba,” that appeared in the Georgetown Journal

He is the recipient of three government grants that allowed him to research traditional music in China, India, and Brazil.  His articles on Brazilian music have been translated and published in Dutch, German, Portuguese, Serbian, and Spanish. You can reach him through his e-mail: cuica@interworld.net.


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