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Brazilian Star Wars at NYFOS: Next –Clarice Assad & Friends
by Sherri Rase      |   follow us...

   
photos by Sherri Rase
Clarice Assad & Friends
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On Star Wars Day, May 4, the New York Festival of Song’s NYFOS Next presented composer “Clarice Assad and Friends,” which should have been named “and SUPER Friends.” Truly, with the call and response that occurred, it was a war of Brazilian stars. Here’s how it went down.
The opening was a soft affair with Michael Barrett, NYFOS Associate Artistic Director and co-founder, introducing Assad, who was followed onstage immediately by percussionist Keita Ogawa. The venue was SubCulture, a most intriguing and intimate space, where Assad and her friends could create musical alchemy. Exposed brick and old-time movie theatre-type seats, interspersed with some cabaret-style tables, lent further intimacy, enhanced by the vibrant lighting, which gave us every nuance of these musicians’ talents–hands, faces, and hearts.
Keita, on tambourine, and Assad were already revealing glimpses of her vocal derring-do, first hooking the audience with “Patuscada de Ghandi,” by Afoxé Filhos de Ghandi and Gilberto Gil. Assad taught us all how we could share in the experience of the performance, with a bit of well-placed simple sound. We were all in the palm of her hand, and felt accomplished for the wee bit we added to the musicians’ genius. Next up was Vitor Martins and Sueli Costa’s “20 Años Blue,” again with just the duo, with Assad adding piano to the mix. Classic blues with Latin flavor, it was a huge hit for Elis Regina in 1972 on her eponymous album, which is regarded today as one of the top 100 Brazilian albums of all time. Clearly the bar was set very high early on.
Brazil is so large that Assad suggested there should be several installments to this program, casting an arch glance in Barrett’s direction. For the moment, however, this musical survey would take us up the coast of Brazil for songs old and new.
Artigo de Luxo, where Samba itself is a luxury item, saw the advent of the entire band, with Jorge Continentino on horns and flute, João Luiz on guitar, and Shin Sakaino on upright bass, which did more than just string us along–the sounds were rich and beautiful and we were transported from our pocket venue to more sultry climes. Incidentally, I had met Jorge at the bar earlier, when few people were yet on hand. Anyone who leads a conversation with a stranger with a megawatt smile will always be a hero in my book, more so for having his wife and son there to see daddy work!
Each of the musicians seemed part of an integral whole, as Assad demonstrated her philosophy of the body and voice being an instrument, a vehicle, a canvas for creating beauty from the stillness of the air. Her voice, her antic sense of fun, and her musical humor and that of her fellow musicians made for an intoxicating evening–feet were tapping and fingers were twitching, as people throughout the audience felt the music permeate the air, leaving the workweek behind to fully embrace this joyous Friday evening. Luiz Gonzaga’s Northeast Brazil flavor on “From United States of Piauí” had guitarist Luiz, when he introduced the song relating how far ahead of his time Gonzaga was, writing more than 40 years ago about the influences of globalization, a word that had not yet been coined at that time.
Segue into “Cabaré,” initially solo piano with subtle moments, as each instrument stepped in and Assad first conversed with the piano as she sang, then serenaded it–crooning, then arguing, then making her point. Dolores Duran’s “A Noite do Meu Bem” is all the more poignant for knowing that Duran died far too young, at 29 years old, and never felt the love of which she wrote so well. On Joyce and Ana Terra’s “Essa Mulher,” continuing the female arc of song, Assad sang with such intimacy she could have been singing to one person alone. The vocals were augmented by the most delicate touch of guitar, bass, flute, and percussion, and it was all one mind.
Encouraged by NYFOS to do one of her own works, Assad offered “The Ugly Duckling,” with its intentionally self-aware bumbling delight. As she worked her voice as an instrument throughout the evening, we were treated to Brazilian beatboxing, scat singing, and more, as an inside joke roiled around the guitarist during “The Ugly Duckling,” as the ghost of a smile often touched his lips.
What was my favorite part of the evening? Ordinarily, I would name a particular song, but for this evening, it had to be the collective genius of a group of top musicians, alive and totally together as one, demonstrating that different talents combine, overlap, and morph into something even greater than the stellar individual parts. On the encore, by Antônio Carlos Jobim, the friendly duel between Assad and Continentino was pure electric eclectic delight.
Generosity and the stuff of which stars are made created an experience that thrills me every time I think about it. Wanna hear more? The best is yet to come.
Do you want to hear the stars of tomorrow today? Visit www.NYFOS.org for more information about next season and especially about NYFOS Next.




 

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