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


Half & half plus Guinga

Mixed doubles offer assorted delights.

Daniella Thompson

21 November 2004

Nóis 4 (formerly As Meninas)

England-based paulista singer Mônica Vasconcelos and German alto-soprano saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock have been collaborating for the past ten years. In the beginning, it was just the two of them, and they went by the name of As Meninas. When they were joined by guitarist Ife Tolentino and percussionist Chris Wells, the group kept its feminine name. Eventually, the band grew to include nine members under the name Nóis (the phonetic form of Nós). When the original four “Meninas” recorded a new disc in December 2003, they became Nóis 4.

The new disc’s title is, appropriately, Gente, being a collaborative effort involving not only the four of Nóis 4 but five Brazilian musicians, inlcuding stars Guinga, Swami Jr., and Toninho Ferragutti. The albums is divided almost symmetrically in two. The first half consists of famous songs; the second, with one exception, of compositions by Nóis 4.

Opening the CD is the rapid baião “Influência do Jackson,” a genre memorably used by Guinga and Aldir Blanc. In this case, the song is an homage to Jackson do Pandeiro, and the lyrics are a concatenation of citations from Jackson’s songs and references to places where he has lived. Many of you are probably familiar with Leila Pinheiro’s two definitive recordings of this song. What sets Nóis 4’s version apart is Ingrid Laubrock’s sax, which introduces jazz improvisation and klezmer elements into the nordestino mix.

Relampiano” has been recorded separately by both its co-authors, as well as by Elba Ramalho. In those renditions it was both markedly rhythmic and northeastern in flavor. The Nóis 4 recording is more lyrically introspective, which renders this story of a slum-dwelling boy selling drops at the traffic light all the more heartbreaking.

Tudo é tão normal, tal e qual
Neném não tem hora para ir se deitar
Mãe passando roupa do pai de agora
De um outro caçula que ainda vai chegar
É mais uma boca dentro do barraco
Mais um quilo de farinha do mesmo saco
Para alimentar um novo João Ninguém
E a cidade cresce junto com neném

Complementing Mônica’s restrained singing are Ingrid’s muted sax and the Basquiat Strings in an arrangement by Ben Davis, behind which Chris Wells has added distant percussion that builds up the feeling of alienation.

The diametrical opposite of alienation is the gorgeous “Choro Bandido” from the musical O Corsário do Rei by Edu Lobo and Chico Buarque. The great accordionist Toninho Ferragutti helps turn this track into a magical interlude, and Ingrid’s sax does the rest.

Gonzaguinha’s samba “Com a Perna no Mundo” is one of the more celebrated soccer songs Brazil has ever produced. It’s also the triumphal tale of a boy very much like the one who sells drops at the traffic light. Guinga, who is no slouch when it comes to playing futebol, sings the opening lines in his reedy voice until Mônica and chorus take over in one of the strongest performances on the album. Ingrid gives us a bit of Pixinguinha-like counterplay as a wrap-up.

Mônica shines again in Tom and Vinicius’ “Canção em Modo Menor,” where she shares the spotlight with Ingrid’s extended sax solo in a beautiful arrangement of guitar and strings. On a different note altogether is the tongue-twisting “Chá de Panela,” a tribute to Hermeto Pascoal:

Nesse chá de panela que eu senti a vocação:
Vi que música é tudo que avoa e rasga o chão.
Foi Hermeto Pascoal que magistral me deu o dom
De entender que do lixo ao avião em tudo há tom
E que até pinico dá bom som se a criação é mais
Se o músico for bom

Rendering homage are several heavyweights, including the composer (Guinga) on guitar, Swami Jr on bass, and Toninho Ferragutti, standing in for the homeageado. The accordionist returns in “Sobre o Papel,” which is above all a vehicle for Ingrid Laubrock’s soprano sax. While the Nóis 4 compositions are attractive and well-produced, they’re not up to the stature of the songs in the first half. “A Flor e o Espinho” is therefore a welcome presence among them. Still, there’s much to enjoy in the latter part, and Ingrid Laubrock in particular deserves further attention.

Listen to audio samples.

Nóis 4: Gente
(Candid Records CCD 79784; 2004) 50:43 min.

Produced by Chris Wells

01. Influência do Jackson (Guinga/Aldir Blanc)
02. Relampiano (Lenine/Paulo Moska)
03. Choro Bandido (Edu Lobo/Chico Buarque)
04. Com a Perna no Mundo (Luiz Gonzaga Jr.)
05. Canção em Modo Menor (Antonio Carlos Jobim/Vinicius de Moraes)
06. Chá de Panela (Guinga/Aldir Blanc)
07. Sobre o Papel (Chris Wells/Pedro Casadalma)
08. Leve (Ingrid Laubrock/Mônica Vasconcelos)
09. A Flor e o Espinho (Nelson Cavaquinho/Guilherme de Brito/Alcides Caminha)
10. Canto pra Cira (Chris Wells/Mônica Vasconcelos)
11. Why (Ife Tolentino)

Guinga: guitar (1, 6, 7); solo intro (7); voice (4)
Swami Jr.: bass (1, 6, 7, 9, 10); 7-string guitar (4)
Toninho Ferragutti: accordion (3, 6, 7, 10)
Basquiat Strings (2, 5)
Guilherme Kastrup: percussion (1, 4, 10)
Webster Santos: cavaquinho (4)


Copyright © 2004–2008 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.