The Graham Weekly Album Review #1165

CD graphic Mônica Salmaso: Trampolim
by George Graham

(Blue Jackel 5023 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 9/1/99)

For more than thirty years, Brazil has been exporting its distinctive music to the US. In the early 1960s, there was a bossa nova craze with Stan Getz working with João and Astrud Gilberto, creating the hit The Girl from Ipanena. Also popular during that period was Sergio Mendes and his band Brasil 66. In the 1970s, jazz-rock fusion artists began working with Brazilian musicians, such as Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, who were in Chick Corea's first Return to Forever band. While Brazilian music in this country still mainly finds its audience among jazz fans, in recent years, the Brazilian scene has been the source of some fascinating world music blends, incorporating African and South American influences with a strong European foundation that can hint at classical music. Both veteran and up-and-coming Brazilian performers have been creating some very worthwhile and innovative recordings released in the US over the past several years, including Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Toninho Horta, Dori Caymmi, and even Sergio Mendes, who a few years ago made a fascinating, recording incorporating northern Brazilian style percussion very much unlike his old Brasil 66 material.

This week we have an album by a remarkable young Brazilian vocalist who captures yet another new facet of Brazilian music. Her name is Mônica Salmaso, and her CD bears the title Trampolim.

Mônica Salmaso was born in São Paulo in 1971 and began her career in the late 1980s singing in the theater. Since then, she has recorded extensively with other musicians, and also on soundtracks for films in Brazil. One of the first US releases featuring Ms. Salmaso prominently was a duo recording with guitarist Paulo Bellinati called Afro Sambas, which put Ms. Salmaso's beautifully plaintive voice in the company of Bellinati's classical guitar. It was one of those recordings not soon to be forgotten by those lucky enough to hear it.

Recorded in the spring of 1997, and now just being released in this country, Trampolim is Ms. Salmaso's first US released CD under her own name, and it is also an amazing recording. The instrumental setting is spare, sometimes just one instrument, so the focus remains on her distinctive voice which conveys emotion that transcends any language barrier. Among the musicians on this CD are Bellinati, and Brazilian percussionist extraordinaire Nana Vasconcelos, who has worked with many American jazz musicians.

Speaking of the language barrier, this CD is all sung in Portuguese, and the American distributor released the CD with the original Portuguese liner notes. It might have helped the average American listener to have some translations, but again, the music transcends the mode of communication, with Ms. Salmaso's vocals being such a pure musical instrument.

The styles on this CD hint at jazz, tango, and even classical, but you won't find any of the conventional sambas or bossa novas that most people associate with Brazilian music.

The CD begins with one of its most striking pieces, a traditional song, Canto dos Escravos or "I sing of the slaves." It's just Ms. Salmaso's vocals with Vasconcelos' percussion and backing vocals. The piece hints at the plaintive cries of slaves in a work gang. <<>>

Another traditional Brazilian song given an attractive performance is Bate Canela, which translates as "It Beats Cinnamon." Again Nana Vasconcelos is heard along with keyboard man Lelo Nazario. The result is rhythmically infectious and yet somehow contemplative. <<>>

With guitarist Paulo Bellinati providing the sole accompaniment is Tajapanema. It reprises the wonderful sound of the joint Bellinati/Salmaso CD Afro-Sambas. <<>>

Bellinati does some interesting percussive guitar work, turning fret noises into a rhythmic element in the intriguing piece Saci. <<>>

One of the original songs by Ms. Salmaso is Determinei, or "I determined," in this case, apparently a set of wishes. It starts out with some percussion and vocals hinting of Africa or Australia <<>> before settling into a relaxed tropical groove. <<>>

With a jazzier sound, thanks to the presence of soprano saxophonist Teco Cardoso is the piece called Tuareque e Nagô. <<>>

Also striking is the Dori Caymmi composition Na Ribeira Deste Rio, with a melancholy-sounding accordion vaguely reminiscent of Argentine tango. <<>>

With a distinctive combination of classical style guitar and exotic percussion, including vocal percussion, is the Lenda Prareira which features Bellinati and Vasconcelos both doing very creative work. <<>>

The CD ends with its title piece Trampolim, which is simply Portuguese for "trampoline." The mainly piano accompaniment by someone named Bugge Wesselhoft provides a tasteful setting for Ms. Salmaso's gorgeous vocal on this piece. <<>>

Mônica Salmaso is one of the best voices to come out of the prolific Brazilian music scene in a long time. In fact, that was confirmed by her winning a recent nationwide vocalists' competition which attracted 1200 contestants throughout Brazil. Her CD Trampolim, newly released in the US, is a remarkable recording capturing her wonderful voice in tastefully sparse musical arrangements that both incorporate distinctively Brazilian elements and at the same time defy the stereotypes of music from that country. The material tends to run from the introspective to the downright plaintive, and through it all, one can lose oneself in Ms. Salmaso's voice which is at once both understated and richly emotional.

Sonically, the album is also a joy, getting a solid grade "A" from us. Recorded in Brazil, it was mixed and mastered in Norway, by Jon Erik Konghaug, who engineered many of the classic ECM jazz recordings, known for their sumptuous sound. Konghaung does a great job with this CD, creating a rich sonic space which further enhances Ms. Salmaso's vocals, and also maintaining a excellent dynamic range. Major US labels would do well to learn from the sonic excellence of this CD. The only quibble I would have is that several piece include an electronic piano, rather than the real thing.

Whether you remember the popularity of bossa nova and samba, if you're a world music fan, or if you're just looking for an album that will just knock your socks off with its sheer beauty, then Mônica Salmaso's CD Trampolim is definitely worth seeking out.

(c) Copyright 1999 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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