Music » Latin Beat

Salsa's Sun and Lisboa by Night

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Fadistas are like Lisbon's beatniks--nocturnal men and women, dressed in black, who drink red wine in the tavernas, strum fig-shaped guitars and sing about ships that disappear on the horizon. They are the type of goths you might find in a Caravaggio painting. Fado means fate; it's been compared to rembetika, tango and the blues, but there's nothing else really like it. The way dipthongs are bent across sustained rubato notes creates an emotional rush, even if you don't understand Portuguese. Fado's first queen, Amalia Rodrigues, brought the music of Lisbon's maritime slums to international prominence through her recordings and radio broadcasts in the 1950s. Fado's new queen, if such a mantle may be passed, could well be Mariza. Born in Mozambique and raised in the Mouraria district where fado's 19th-century roots still thrive, she has a towering stature and a voice to match.

Mariza, who performed Oct. 5 at Stewart Theatre, has the kind of highly personal style that is the calling card of a first-class fadista. Her art deco accessories and blond marcelled hair, reminiscent of an Erte flapper, complement floor-length retrofolk gowns by Portuguese designer Joao Rolo that meld fashion and history. Thus a magenta corset rises above a patchwork skirt with the rich palette of a crazy quilt; amidst this sea of color, Mariza drapes the traditional black shawl across her slender shoulders, the fadista's reminder of men lost to wandering and the sea.

During a short break when her three-piece band (electric bass, classical guitar and guitarra portuges) played instrumental fados, Mariza changed into an all black gown with elaborate sleeves designed to mimic the effect of a shawl. At times she danced across the stage on little cat feet that remained invisible beneath swirling taffeta and tulle overskirts.

Mariza's astoundingly powerful voice warms at the same time it lures to profound, sometimes somber depths. Her speaking voice left a delicate, almost fragile impression by comparison. "La Primavera," the keystone in a well-balanced program and a fado Mariza calls her favorite, was heart-stopping, going beyond the already haunting version on her 2001 album Fado em Mim. She re-recorded the song, originally an Amalia Rodrigues hit, on her most recent album, Fado Curvo.

Palmieri at Duke
By the time you read this, Eddie Palmieri will have packed up his bags and flown back to Nueva York. He will have already packed the house for a concert with the Duke Jazz Ensemble at Baldwin Auditorium. Hopefully, you were there. Here's a peek at the preparation that went on behind the scenes during Palmieri's four-day visit.

"Yeah, don't be afraid, that's what we're looking for," says director John Brown as his Jazz Ensemble rehearses a particularly tricky line of the groundbreaking 1965 tune "Azucar." It's tricky because it's syncopation wrapped around the clave--not exactly straight ahead jazz. This student ensemble is getting a taste of Latin rhythm right off of the personal charts of the man himself--the Sun of Latin Music, Eddie Palmieri.

"What do you have at C?" the maestro asks a section leader from the piano bench, where he's leading the band backed by Brown's bass and a Latin rhythm section made up of local salseros and Duke instructor Bradley Simmons.

"After C, it says mambo," comes the somewhat quizzical reply. They are getting their sealegs, figuring out patterns to lay down under the solos. On tunes I've heard many times, I'm impressed anew with the complexity of Palmieri's patterns, the tightly nested rhythms and harmonies that should sound dissonant, but don't. Like an intricate device, you don't know how hard it is to put together until you've taken it apart.

Brown is patient and professional with his crew, who for their part are disciplined and attentive; time isn't wasted. "I know it's easier to think ahead of the beat to get the lick sometimes, but this music will not allow that," Brown says, explaining why they simply have to nail it. This is their first rehearsal with Palmieri since he stepped off the plane, yet the groove rolling out of this patched together outfit could already move a bus. Palmieri's hands don't look huge on the keyboard, belying the fact that songs he wrote 40 years ago are still giants under his touch.

"Tonight, we'll make history, that's what you'll hear tonight," Palimieri predicts Friday afternoon, after two days of rehearsals.

For anyone who hasn't heard the news, Eddie Palmieri is one of the greatest living piano players and salsa bandleaders. His legendary trombone- and flute-based orchestra La Perfecta dominated the Palladium Ballroom throughout the 1960s. His discography spans '70s R&B projects, Latin jazz and the first ever Grammy awarded for Latin music in 1975. Leading the blazing "salsa dura" renaissance in New York since his 1998 release El Rumbero del Piano, Palmieri recently revived La Perfecta II for two new recordings on the Concord Picante label, the most recent of which is Ritmo Caliente.

Parties, Workshops and Concert Dates
Saludos Compay hosts a Latin party at the Weathervane (at A Southern Season) this Thursday, Oct. 28 from 7 to 10 p.m. El Vez (the Mexican Elvis impersonator) brings his own sense of Halloween drag to the Cradle this Friday, Oct. 29 (see our interview in Scan, page 53). Triangle Dance Studio is the scene for the Night of the Living DJ 3 on Saturday, Oct. 30, featuring dance lessons and demos in Salsa, Swing, Ballroom and Gumbo Mix. If high stakes are more your game, La Maraka celebrates its fifth anniversary that night by raffling off two cars and hosting live bands from Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Oct. 30 is also Salsa Night in Carrboro, featuring Color Latino at the Century Center from 8-11 p.m. Montas brings West End Mambo to their Echale Salsita Fall Jam on Friday, Nov. 12. Tangophilia (www.tangophilia.com) hosts Argentine tango workshops with 1999 World Champions Fernanda Ghi and Guillermo Merlo on Nov. 12 and 13.

Buzz
Rumor has it that some distinguished area musicians are forming our first honest-to-goodness charanga band--their UNC concert debut is shaping up for late November; keep readin' your Indy for details.

Want to see your gig or event in the Latin Beat? E-mail Sylvia Pfeiffenberger at spike@duke.edu.

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