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Album Review

Maria Mendes: Saudade, Colours of Love

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Maria Mendes: Saudade, Colours of Love
Every language has words that defy translation. Take "saudade" in Portuguese or Galician. Or "fado." Go to a standard dictionary, and "saudade" appears as "nostalgia" or "longing." In reality, a native speaker will tell you "saudade" means a kind of indefinable melancholy for people, places or things that may only exist in the imagination, and "fantasy" will not even come close. "Fado" is an art form, defined as a mournful or fatalistic Portuguese folk song. Perhaps "flamenco" is familiar, but is Andalusian, and therefore, Spanish, and probably based on Sephardic or Roma folk tales and songs. It, too, is unforgettable upon hearing in some dark cave in Sevilla, in Southern Spain, but it is not "saudade" or "fado," although the subject matter may sometimes overlap. Sometimes the only way to learn is to listen, because the entire genre, let alone, the language, is not easily rendered in another culture. Readers of Dante's "Divine Comedy" are sometimes told, "learn Italian." That may not seem terribly helpful, but, honestly, it is accurate.

Maria Mendes is by birth Portuguese and by choice, a resident of the Netherlands, itself a connection that may send listeners scrambling back to their history books. She is also a superb jazz singer. And her influences are eclectic and wide ranging: from Duke Ellington to Frank Sinatra to Betty Carter and Shirley Horn. While she may not be a household name in the United States, she is a Grammy-nominated artist and has performed at the Blue Note in New York City. Together with John Beasley, her pianist and arranger, who hails from Louisiana and has his own haul of Grammy Nominations, including for an Afro-Cuban arrangement of "Donna Lee," it is reasonable to expect something a little different. And this is, with the added feature of live performances as well.

If jazz is the "sound of surprise," surprise there is. Mendes is flamboyant, with a voice that says "listen to me" as she brings together fado and jazz. "Com Que Voz" gives a preview, melding strings, woodwinds and Mendes' very own "echo chamber" which incorporates instrumental shakes and discordant keyboard accompaniment in a kind of swirling exercise in which Mendes makes an entrance over the Dutch Metropole Orchestra. The audience responds by applauding, which Mendes tries to silence! "Tudo Isto É Fado" is in three (maybe) and sounds as if Mulgrew Miller makes a phantom appearance soloing (he assuredly does not). A strong bass line preserves the form while Mendes scats (in Portuguese) "this is all sad, this is fado." "Verdes Anos" is a vehicle for Mendes' extraordinary soprano vocal range, with contrasting and (accompanying!) arco bass and a vaguely montuno figure that, well, is, unconventional, to put it mildly. "Foi Deus," a tune by Alberto Janes, is kind of mix between a lover's lament and a hymn, sensitively done. The mutual admiration society of Hermeto Pascoal and Mendes comes up in "Hermeto's Fado For Maria," a song supposedly gifted to her by Pascoal on the reverse of a hotel evacuation card with the injunction, "Don't you dare not to record it!" There is more, but here is a sample of an adventuresome and extremely innovative recording that never ceases to be beautiful, even as it is daring. Mendes herself wrote "Dança do Amor." It would be hard to find anything prettier. "Meu Pobre Capitão" closes out the concert on an ebullient "singalong" note.

The songs, of course, are all in the lyrical Portuguese language. A dazzling display of talent and technique from all concerned.

Track Listing

Com Que Voz; Tudo Isto E Fado; Verdes Anos; Foi Deus; Hermeto's Fado For Maria; E Se Nao For Fado; Danca Do Amor; Quando Eu Era Pequenina; Meu Pobre Capitao.

Personnel

Maria Mendes: voice / vocals; John Beasley: piano.

Album information

Title: Saudade, Colours of Love | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Challenge Records

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