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Fado em Si Bemol: Fado... With a Pinch of Jazz

Ana Francisca Gonçalves Pereira By

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Jazz reinvents itself every day, in any way, like a chameleon transforms Itself to match its surroundings.

It is thanks to this ability that jazz's place in the world has been firmly cemented; from a musical point of view, there seem to be no physical or spiritual boundaries to what musicians can arrange with this ever-evolving genre, even if that means going against convention or even breaking with tradition.

It comes as no surprise, then, that more and more bands resort to a bass/drums/piano trio as the foundation for their compositional process. Such a combination is not only familiar (e.g.: pianist Oscar Peterson), but as interesting as ever. There is a plethora of ways to explore the piano trio, and one of them is to tweak the ensemble. For instance, by introducing the earthy tones of a guitar to a certain composition, it might just get a whole new relevance—depending, of course, on the sort of vibe trying to be conveyed.

Fado artists are currently stepping up their game and trying new genres, having been inscribed on a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List on November 27, 2011. A music style celebrated around the world, and which now beautifies history records forever, Fado was immortalized by the great Amália Rodrigues (1920-1999), whose extraordinary vocal timbre still overwhelms to this day. With a career spanning 55 years, the "Queen of Fado" helped put jazz on the music map.

One of the most distinguishing features of this genre is its use of the Portuguese guitar. Remarkably, it is only played with thumb and index fingers, twiddling its twelve steel strings in a most peculiar way. Akin to the sound of the Renaissance era cittern from which it stems, the Portuguese guitar contributes a very sharp and rich timbre.

Reiterating the evolution of the piano trio, Fado has been subject to a sort of revamping process, through which musicians treat classics and write new pieces with this combination—and, it might be said, jazz—in mind. The versatility and iconicity so characteristic of jazz is currently serving as a platform for artists to put out Fado compositions that, albeit still true to Portugal's heritage and history, are different in terms of their sonority.

Instead of a piano, a Portuguese guitar is added to the mix, which makes for an interesting yet familiar change—one of the best examples of such a revamped band being Fado em Si Bemol. A quintet rather than a trio, its QB (Vidisco, 2012) is a good example of this new melting-pot wonder that is modern Fado. The richness of the sound a classical guitar provides, together with this new combination of instruments (note that Portuguese guitar and drums are still present), adds to a very smooth, jazzy feel, which is altogether new to the Portuguese tradition.

Adding drums to compositions of such caliber used to be regarded as useless and unnecessary, in fact, as the voice was meant to be the main focus. Nowadays, however, it seems that the paradigm has changed as, according to QB, the power of the fadistas' voice appears to share the main stage with the instrumental part more than ever before.

Whether or not this is a new fad is uncertain; what can be agreed upon, however, is that this jazz/Fado blend is looking brighter and better than ever.

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