tue 21/05/2019

Vinicius Cantuária and Bill Frisell, Ronnie Scott's | reviews, news & interviews

Vinicius Cantuária and Bill Frisell, Ronnie Scott's

Vinicius Cantuária and Bill Frisell, Ronnie Scott's

Star jazz collaborators demonstrate why understatement works best

A beautifully detailed collaboration: Bill Frisell and Vinicius Cantuária

McCartney and Wonder. Jagger and Bowie. Mullard and Baker. Music history teaches us that the star collaboration doesn't always transmute into artistic gold. The Chairman of the Board himself, with a little help from Vandross, Streisand, Bono et al, had a spectacular misfire with Duets Vol 1. Mercilessly butchering many of Francis Albert's best-known songs, the results, artistically speaking, aren't so much a case of, “Yeah, I once recorded with Sinatra, you know,” as, “Number of copies: entire stock. Ship to: my private nuclear bunker.” And that title, Duets, is a bit rich. But then Frank Records His Bit, Then the Star Records Their Bit, Then We Splice it All Together Vol 1 probably wouldn't have fit on the CD case.

Instrumentally, too, the gladiatorial aspect of the duet can bring out the worst kind of grandstanding, no-one-packs-as-many-notes-into-a-bar-as-me tendencies: saxophonists blowing so hard you fear a key internal organ is suddenly going to come flying out of the bell; guitarists ramping up the histrionics to 11 for that extra push over the cliff; drummers flailing around the full kit like some kind of demented octopus. We've all seen it happen.

Thankfully, there was never any doubt that Brazilian singer-songwriter Vinicius Cantuária and US guitarist Bill Frisell would circumvent any such temptations. Cantuária has successfully collaborated with a host of artists including Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Brian Eno and Marc Ribot, while Frisell is an inveterate genre-crosser. Blending traditional Latin rhythms with jazz improv, but in the most delicate, complementary way possible, the duo – together with percussionist Marivaldo Dos Santos – reduced Ronnie Scott's to a transfixed, almost reverential silence. I can't recall the club ever being so quiet.

Performing music from their new album, Lágrimas Mexicanas, which takes its inspiration from Cantuária’s experiences of the sounds emanating from the streets of his adopted New York City, these two consummate guitarists showed just what can be achieved when musicians listen intently to one another. The results were beautifully detailed and, at times, exquisite, with not a showboating solo in sight and a dynamic level that rarely, if ever, rose above mezzo forte.

Whether in the quietly emotive “Mi Declaración”, the adroitly interlocking guitar lines and understated vocal of “Calle 7” (inspired by Cantuária's stroll down Seventh Avenue in Brooklyn's Park Slope), or the dancing melodic riffs of “Aquela Mulher”, Cantuária’s bossa-derived stylings proved to be the perfect foil for Frisell's more open-ended, exploratory approach. The latter's incredibly subtle use of loops and effects created additional layers of textural interest.

Given the notably sotto voce tone of the evening, the cymbal crash that suddenly agitated the smooth waters of the brilliant title track, the evening's high-water mark, was as startling as the cannon fire in the 1812 Overture.

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