:: These reviews were also published
:: in Daniella Thompson on Brazil.


Caymmi with love and jazz

Kenia salutes a giant.

Daniella Thompson

9 July 2010

Kenia and her musicians in the studio

How fortunate we are to be here and now. Fifteen years ago, there was only a handful of Dorival Caymmi CDs to be had. The songwriter’s own LPs were long out of circulation, and few tribute albums had been recorded.

In the intervening years, the omission has been redressed. In 2000, EMI reissued Caymmi’s albums in a handsome box set. Caymmi tribute CDs of the past dozen years include vocal interpretations (Jussara Silveira, Rosa Passos, Olívia Hime, Cláudio Nucci, Mateus Sartori, without mentioning those of Caymmi’s illustrious offspring, Nana, Dori, and Danilo) and instrumental ones (Tomás Improta, Grupo Zarabatana).

Caymmi’s body of work, from the maritime songs and the Bahian sambas to the urbane, Rio-based sambas and sambas-canções, is stamped with the composer’s individuality. It is the sambas and sambas-canções that singer Kenia Ashby chose to interpret in her new CD, Kenia Celebrates Dorival Caymmi.

Beautifully arranged by pianist Fernando Merlino, the album exudes jazz flavors. Piano is the chief accompanying instrument, with bass, percussion, and an occasional guitar beefing up the rhythm section.

The disc opens on a swinging note with the samba “Eu Não Tenho Onde Morar” (1960). Caymmi’s own interpretation is lighthearted, belying the protagonist’s seemingly tragic condition of homelessness until the final line reveals that he’s a womanizer who’s been kicked out of the house (Maria mora com as outras/ Quem paga o quarto sou eu.) The refrain (Eu não tenho onde morar/ É por isso que moro na areia) is usually sung in call and response, the first line undertaken by the soloist and second by a chorus. Kenia sings the entire refrain on her own, and the quadruple repetition casts a hypnotic spell that is hard to shake off.

The second track is a traditional children’s song about a spinning top, “Roda Pião,” which Caymmi adapted in 1939 as a samba for Carmen Miranda (he participated in the recording) and subsequentley re-recorded in 1957. This song’s refrain also requires a response, and this time Kenia brings in four musicians’ children to serve as chorus.

In 1965, Caymmi spent several months in the U.S. and recorded the Warner LP Caymmi and The Girls From Bahia, with orchestral arrangements by Bill Hitchcock. In that album he sang “...das Rosas” for the first time, backed up by Quarteto em Cy, the latter singing the refrain of the English version written by Ray Gilbert. Kenia sings Gilbert’s “And Roses and Roses” with the Portuguese refrain. Her exquisite phrasing and Merino’s spare and lovely piano accompaniment rescue this song from the sentimentality into which it is so easily liable to fall.

Tracks 4 to 7 were all composed in the early 1940s for male vocal groups. “Samba da Minha Terra” (1940), a hit for Bando da Lua, is one of Caymmi’s towering compositions, containing what might be the songwriter’s most quotable lines: Quem não gosta de samba/ Bom sujeito não é:/ É ruim da cabeça/ Ou doente do pé. Kenia’s interpretation gains vital force from the intervention of Jay Ashby’s trombone. Equally swinging is the recipe-samba “Vatapá” (1942), first perfomed by Anjos do Inferno. Kenia’s singing here is controlled; with the exception stretching the rhythm on the word Vatapá in the refrain, the singer stays within the piano’s beat.

“Requebre Que Eu Dou um Doce” (1941) was another Anjos do Inferno vehicle. The group was known for its pistom nasal—nasal imitation of a muted trumpet’s tone. Jay Ashby, who arranged this samba for Kenia’s album, introduces a similarly delicious and danceable note of gafieira by way of his trombone. “Você Já Foi a Bahia?” (1941) was side A of “Requebre Que Eu Dou um Doce”—two monster hits on a single 78-rpm disc. Kenia lends her own voice to the choral backup of “Requebre” and permits herself more freedom in her inflections than she did in the preceding three sambas. The piano echoes her speechlike utterances with punctuated responses.

The samba-canção “Sábado em Copacabana” (1951) is one of Caymmi’s most evocative songs (his putative partner, Carlos Guinle, had nothing to do with it other than being Caymmi’s friend). It is forever identified with the velvety voice of Lúcio Alves, accompanied by Radamés Gnattali’ piano and string orchestra. Kenia’s rendition gives the song its due, from the tender longing expressed in voice and piano to the muted percussion that doesn’t quite turn it into a bolero.

“O Dengo Que a Nega Tem” (1940), a samba recorded by Carmen Miranda and chorus, receives here Kenia’s multiplied voice as backup. “Acontece Que Eu Sou Baiano” (1943), one of Caymmi’s most exuberant sambas in the voice of Anjos do Inferno (and more recently in that of João Gilberto), receives here a fairly straightforward reading. The humor missing from the vocals comes through in Leo Traversa’s bass. Would that there had been more of it.

“Nunca Mais” (1949) is another soulful samba-canção introduced by Lúcio Alves. Kenia shines here, conveying infinite yearning in a restrained interpretation. With “Doralice” (1945), we’re back to the syncopated samba of Anjos do Inferno (and João Gilberto). Merlino’s piano is the star in Kenia’s recording, launching into a joyful solo midway through the track.

The carefree samba “Maracangalha” (1956), a huge carnaval hit in 1957, earned Caymmi the title of Best Composer of the Year. As in “Acontece Que Eu Sou Baiano,” Kenia’s reading is more understated than the song warrants, but the percussion and the piano liven things up considerably. The same may be said for “A Vizinha do Lado” (1946), which is a lustful samba that deserves a corresponding intepretation.

Closer to the heart is the samba-canção “Marina” (1947), which Kenia delivers with great delicacy and feeling. It’s a fitting conclusion to this well-thought-out and deftly executed album.

Lyrics in Portuguese and in English translation are available on Kenia’s website.

Kenia Ashby: Kenia Celebrates Dorival Caymmi
(Mooka Records M001030; 2010) 50 min.

Arrangements by Fernando Merlino & Jay Ashby (track 6)

01. Eu Não Tenho Onde Morar (Dorival Caymmi)
02. Roda Pião (Traditional/arr. Dorival Caymmi)
03. And Roses and Roses (Dorival Caymmi/Ray Gilbert)
04. Samba da Minha Terra (Dorival Caymmi)
05. Vatapá (Dorival Caymmi)
06. Requebre Que Eu Dou um Doce (Dorival Caymmi)
07. Você Já Foi a Bahia? (Dorival Caymmi)
08. Sábado em Copacabana (Dorival Caymmi/Carlos Guinle)
09. O Dengo Que a Nega Tem (Dorival Caymmi)
10. Acontece Que Eu Sou Baiano (Dorival Caymmi)
11. Nunca Mais (Dorival Caymmi)
12. Doralice (Dorival Caymmi/Antônio Almeida)
13. Maracangalha (Dorival Caymmi)
14. A Vizinha do Lado (Dorival Caymmi)i
15. Marina (Dorival Caymmi)

Fernando Merlino, piano
Leo Traversa, bass
Jay Ashby, percussion & trombone
Airto Moreira & Lucas Ashby, percussion
Eric Susoeff & Marty Ashby, guitar


Copyright © 2010 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.