Among Portuguese guitar players/composers, Carlos Paredes is a legend. Among contemporary Fado singers, Mísia is one of the bright stars. On Canto, the impossible happens - famous instrumental Paredes ballads have been transcribed for voice and string quintet plus Portuguese guitar, violin and viola do fado, with poetry by Vasco Graça Moura. The results are nothing short of stupendous. The heavy legato technique favored by Paredes translates impeccably to the Camerata de Borgogne strings, their Baroque/Roccoco mien and timbres gorgeously matched against the crying sobs of Jose Manuel Neto's guitar, the saturated, thickly lazy and mournful vocals of Mísia the perfect balance between cloistered poise and passionate sensuality.
Stepping into the splendor of Canto is like entering the boudoir of a high-society damsel. The perfumes are heavily tropical, the wardrobe is chic yet classically restrained, the overstuffed bed luscious, the floral bouquets large yet perfectly groomed. Everything's sophisticated and elegant, yet there's longing and even lust contained in these perfect settings. Waltzing along this knife blade is what Canto's all about: A twilight journey of deep colors and extreme romance.
Unique among Fado albums are two vital ingredients: The gift of heavenly Paredes melodies never before heard set to song; and the exploded tonal palette of bowed strings intermingling with the plucked guitar. It's as though Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Mists of Avalon" had been set to music that perfectly captured the mystery, courtliness and emotional drama of Arthurian legend. Like Mughal ghazals sung in Urdu -- the Persian/Indian language nearly exclusively used for poetry -- the sound of the Portuguese language is the perfect vehicle even (or especially?) to those like me who don't understand a single word.
Like the recently reviewed Casa album by Morelenbaum²/Sakamoto, everything about Canto spells seamless perfection, an unbroken mood of magic. Hearing the rapturously gorgeous "Verdes Anos", one of the classic Paredes gems, on the breath of con arco strings and voice is stunning in a retrograde kind of way - first, because it would never have occurred to you that it could me done (in other words, you would never have given it a thought, or that anyone else would); and secondly -- now that it embraces you floating on the vivid memories of the original -- you see in raw suddenness how impossibly difficult it was. Hearing this new rendition never once telegraphs discomfort, dilution or estrangement. It's more like an expertly matched dance partner - different yet engrossed in the same dance, gliding on the parquet without a single misstep.
What we have here then is a best-of selection of famous melodies by one of the Portuguese grandmasters; uncanny arrangements that, on "Ah Não II", even include a bit of Greek/Oriental instrumental improv by Henri Agnel on cistre; and vocals that slip under your skin like satin or silk linger above it. The best about it all is perhaps a certain inherent old-fashionedness whereby this album grants instant access even to listeners who'd usually not be too adventurous to dip their toes into foreign-music waters. Put differently, if Canto doesn't get to you, make sure your life insurance is informed about your premature demise - and tell your significant other to take a new, more vigorous lover.