|As recounted in our recent review of Caminhos, Dulce Pontes and Mísia, Mariza, Mafalda Arnauth and Cristina Branco are five of the most visible modern Fadistas, female vocalists resurrecting the particular style of Portuguese song made immortal by Amalia Rodrigues but since said to have fallen into decline and decadence.
The two present m.a. recordings feature Maria Ana Bobone, a singer from Oporto who, on Luz Destino, surrounds herself with Ricardo Rocha on guitarra portuguesa, João Paulo on harpsichord and Mario Franco on contrabass for four tracks. The Baroque, at times shockingly current presence of the harpsichord -- sometimes reminiscent of a Japanese koto, at others modulating very modern dissonant chord progressions -- guarantees gorgeous timbral interplay with the bel canto quivering of Rocha's plucked guitar. It occasionally and very surprisingly veers into unheard-of 12-tone settings as well. By already eschewing the customary fado accompaniment of lead, rhythm and bass guitars, Luz Destino abandons traditional expectations and restrictions of the past. The vocal delivery only further looks for new ways that retain recognizable Fado sensibilities yet can no longer be satisfactorily defined by them. Add the Jazz influences of Franco's double-bass, and the fixed north of your stylistic Portuguese compass may seem like an impossibly elusive aim indeed.
While precise categorization of what exactly to call Luz Destino might best be left to native experts, it seems fair to say that Bobone's style is folkloric yet modern, classicistic while experimental, hence a forward-thinking exploration of what Fado might become in the 21st century as a new musical form. Naturally far more important than ethnomusical worries, her voice is achingly pure, her vibrato subtle and refined, the compositions by Paulo and Rocha pure poetry, the entire recording an exercise in beauty and lyricism. Those who, like me, are excessively fond of the heart-rending timbre of the Portuguese guitar, yet keen on hearing it outside the traditional Carlos Paredes setting, will additionally celebrate how unusually this instrument is employed here.
Senhora de Lapa continues the mood but alters the tonal palette - João Paulo's Hamburg Steinway D Concert Grand turns instrumental anchor, Rocha's guitar is relegated to three tracks, Peter Epstein's soprano and alto sax introduced as new voice on three others. The basic piano/voice duet form with Portuguese guitar and saxophone solos now departs yet farther from the expected Fado mold. Here it feels simply like romantic neo-classical chamber music with a stately while impressionist French/Brazilian bend - voluptuously melodic, gentle in delivery, down-tempo in mood, with Epstein's saxophone integrated similarly tasteful to Jan Garbarek's collaboration with the Hilliard Ensemble. Of the two releases, I personally favor the first for its greater variety of moods, tempi and stylistic risks. But make no mistake - both are stellar and additionally benefit from the outrageous production values that, like fellow label WaterLily, have made m.a. recordings famous with discerning music lovers.