Without doubt, Brazil's Maria Bethânia is one of the most compelling, impassioned singers I've ever heard. But finding the "right" Bethânia album can be daunting for listeners new to MPB ( Música Popular Brasileira ). Her studio recordings are something of a mixed bag, but she's an absolute knockout onstage. My suggestion: try one (or both) of these live sets.
Recital na Boite Barroco was recorded soon after Bethânia's professional debut, and it shows why the public went crazy for her. The intimate setting is just right for the singer and her backup band. (Here it's the Terra Trio, a crack bossa-jazz outfit equally accomplished at vocals and instrumentals.) And what a set list! She starts off with Gilberto Gil's supercharged "Marginâlia II" and never lets up, with poignant sambas by Noel Rosa ("Ãšltimo Desejo") and Assis Valente ("Camisa Listrada") alternating with boleros, bossa nova classics and Pixinguinha's matchless choro, "Carinhoso."
Maricotinha Ao Vivo is more than a reprise of Bethânia's latest studio album it's a sonic summary of her 35-year career. The arrangements, written by longtime musical partner Jaime Alem, have a lean, spare quality that suits her performing style to a T. Among the many memorable tracks: "Ronda" (by São Paulo-based composer Paulo Vanzolini), Rita Lee's "Baila Comigo/Shangrilá," and the haunting "A Voz de uma pessoa vitoriosa" (by her brother Caetano Veloso and poet Waly Salomão).
There's a lovely northeastern lilt to the set, due partly to the inclusion of jaunty baiões by Luiz Gonzaga, along with songs by Chico César and Lenine. As usual, Bethânia recites plenty of poetry this may be somewhat baffling if you don't know Portuguese, but don't let it put you off. The lady's got a decided flare for the spoken word, and excellent taste besides. (You might even find yourself gravitating toward these tracks, as I have.) In all, a show worth savoring.
(And keep an eye out for the DVD release...)
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Reprinted with permission from www.maria-brazil-org .