Maria Bethânia - Oásis de Bethânia
Fortunate is the artist who can create the work she envisions with the fellow musicians of, and under the circumstances of, her own choosing, free of the pressures of what Duke Ellington aptly called the “money jungle” (in the 1963 LP of that name). Not coincidentally, perhaps, that was the year Maria Bethânia made her debut, and superb it is that she has long enjoyed the freedom to create without bending to the ravenous deus lucre of popularity.
Oásis de Bethânia, the singer's 50th album in 50 years, co-produced with bassist Jorge Helder, seems an appropriate moment to listen back. The sonorous continuity of her vocal artistry finds confirmation in hearing her early work (e.g., Edú e Bethânia, 1966) alongside the more recent, say, her sublime pairing in 2008 with Cuba's Omara Portuondo. Bethânia's expressiveness has evolved organically, broadened, deepened, and often, her most revealing work continues to be the bounty of inventive musical partnership. As such, Oásis presents an art singer nonpareil whose exquisite minimalism and creative generosity of spirit confirm the enduring essence of her artistic gift.
As ever, Bethânia's is a sinuous essay of exceptional Brazilian songsmiths (Chico Buarque, Candido das Neves, Roque Ferreira, Jota de Velloso, Raphael Rabello, Paulo Cesar Pinheiro), with guests including mandolin ace Hamilton de Holanda, pianists Vitor Gonçalves and André Mehmari, and singer-guitarists Lenine and Djavan. Bethânia evokes the whispers of “As Time Goes By” that run through Roque Ferreira's brilliant “Casablanca,” with Gonçalves's spare piano and Marcelo Martins' sax solo. She embodies the weary melancholy of Velloso's “Calmaria,” to haunting berimbau backing, ending with a soulful recitation of the Fernando Pessoa poem “Năo sei quantas almas tenho.” She inhabits the tender melancholy of Ferreira's “Fado,” and in closing, with only Mehmari's delicate piano accompaniment, confers a refined jazz-ballad sensibility to Rabello and Pinheiro's “Salmo” (Psalm). A reading of the Portuguese lyrics confirms the unifying expression of saudade that runs through the album and her opus writ large, an elegy to precious life. - Michael Stone
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