Emilio Santiago & Dori Caymmi at Birdland, NYC

Ernest Barteldes By

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This year's Festival was a great opportunity both to rediscover these two fabulous musicians who rarely play in New York, and also to rediscover--and in great form--some of the best melodies ever penned
Emilio Santiago and Dori Caymmi
Bossa Brazil Festival, Birdland
New York, New York
April 22, 2009

For the third consecutive year, New York's Birdland Jazz club opened its doors for the week-long Bossa Brazil Festival, which this time around featured Rio de Janeiro crooner Emilio Santiago, announced by producer Pat Phillips as the "Nat King Cole of Brazil"—a comparison that relates not to their voical quality but to both musicians' reputation for turning ballads into bona-fide standards.

Backed by an accomplished trio formed by Sergio Brandão (bass), Celso Alberti (drums) and Cidinho Teixeira (piano), Santiago kicked off the first part of the concert with samba classics like Ary Barroso's "Aquarela do Brasil" and Jobim gems like "Dindi" and "Corcovado" (best known Stateside as "Quiet Nights"), using them to explore his vast vocal range. The band was impeccable—Teixeira has sort of a Brubeck-like right-hand style that gives the music a great balance between subtle and edgy textures.

One highlight from this first part was "Bananeira," a Joao Donato tune made popular by Bebel Gilberto a few years ago. In this band's hands, the tune was played with a funky beat complemented by a samba middle section that gave the musicians plenty of opportunity to showcase their individual chops.

It was then time for guitarist and producer Dori Caymmi to take the stage, sharing a close duet with Santiago on Jobim/Vinicius de Moraes' "Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar," which included a French-language part. Santiago then left the stage, and Caymmi played an original composition about his love for the Amazon jungle—in reference to the concurrently scheduled Earth Day, he made a comment on the importance of protecting the environment, jokingly advising the audience "not do pee in the Amazon."

Next, he moved to "Voce Foi a Bahia?" with guest Hendrik Murkens on harmonica. The tune, penned by Caymmi's late father (Dorival Caymmi, who passed away last year at age 94), describes the glories of the state of Bahia—where you can find unique Afro-Brazilian culinary treats unlike anywhere else in Brazil.

Santiago then returned to the stage for Ivan Lins' "Lembra de Mim," a soft ballad that suited the crooner's voice to perfection—but it was Murkens who stole the show at this moment, delivering a spirited solo that got everyone's attention—including that of Santiago, who seemed completely captivated by what the German-born musician was doing.

One of the few more contemporary tunes on the roster was Rosa Passos's beautiful Spanish-language "Desilusión," here featured as a more traditional bossa. The set closed with the inevitable "Girl From Ipanema," arranged here more like a Rio de Janeiro samba than a bossa nova, a rhythmic transformation better suited to Santiago's groovy style.

This year's Festival was a great opportunity both to rediscover these two fabulous musicians who rarely play in New York (having them together is an even rarer event), and also to rediscover—and in great form—some of the best melodies ever penned—leaving us counting the days to next year's festival.

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