Magalí Sare is a pianist, vocalist, flautist, percussionist, composer, arranger, lyricist, and more from Catalonia (Catalunya in their recognized language as an autonomous state) with training in Western classical music and jazz; these elements combine to give a sophisticated and lyrical sound to Esponja (Sponge), Sare’s second album released under her own name.
Esponja is both alluring and infectious, made ever more captivating by the polished elasticity of Sare’s voice. She adorns her gift with a palette of vocal accents, chirps and sighs for example, to illustrate her stories, confessions, her soul, further enhanced by toothsome lyrics and classy instrumentation. There’s little here that is not immensely pleasing.
“Mañana” recalls the slick, stylized vocal groups of the 40’s in the U.S. Sare accompanies her multi-tracked vocals on piano with a jazzy simple line, adds to her voices a soupçon of doo-wop’s syncopated finger snapping, and plays with 50’s Cuban nightclub accents as well.
The song offers a lovely play of imaginings about loss and love. She moves with grace from heady musings on the conundrum of life to vivid illustrations of her perplexing thoughts. She’s losing, and missing, her lover this morning, and will search for them amongst the clouds and her pillows, painting a picture that’s both intimate and unachievable. She’ll also look under the bed but, will find only dust. Is Sare suggesting her lover’s evanescing with this graphic, or the bothersome remains of a once great love? More philosophically now, Sare can’t but compare love to a thicket of spiderwebs, “fragile and strong and woven with affection,” adding enigmatically, "just as is freedom." The album is replete with gnawing ponderables such as this.
“Esponja," with lyrics in Catalan, eschews drollery for reminiscence, foretold by the bittersweetness of Sebastià Gris’ accompanying acoustic guitar while Sare reflects on her innocent girlhood when she couldn’t tell right from wrong. Like a sponge, she confesses, she absorbed everything while learning nothing.
Today, Sare still feels her ignorance, still feels like a sponge, awaiting someone to teach her to be that person she has always hoped to be. The spare setting of the guitar, Sare’s bell-like vocals that echo at times as if returning to the past, teamed with the light touch of her piano, and just enough flow and ebb of emotion, make for a subtle, heartfelt lament.
“Malfeites” (Bad Deeds), in Portuguese now, continues in a confessional tone. Sare is older, on the cusp of being able to accept responsibility for her deeds. From just a languid piano riding waves of intimacy and reflection, to a big sound with piano power chords, this piece, too, is a memoir that doesn’t beg sympathy nor judgment. Most of the song is just Sare and her piano, echoing her tranquil honesty as she hopes that the proverbial light of the sun will burn her sins from her. Sare moves to dramatic sounds at her most embarrassing deeds as the piano opens wide, heightened by crashing cymbals and an urgent chorus. These intervals of power give testament to her angst. And to her desire for change. Sare and her piano close in catharsis; she has confessed, and now, she says, she is at peace.
In “Sempre Vens Assim” Sare celebrates Portugal’s greatest poet of the 20th century, Fernando Pessoa, whose works have been the inspiration for some of fado’s most beautiful songs. Sare has reverently and cleverly woven into song a series of the master’s quadras, or 4-lined poems. Her rousing treatment disports her instruments and their players— all acoustic, including 2 guitars, a bass drum with cymbals, saxophone, flute, clarinet, and bass—at full tilt, and you want to get up and dance. Portugal’s mega-star, Salvador Sobral, shares the vocals with her, and they are splendid together; their serendipitously conjoined tones are magical. Sobral reminds me somewhat of a younger Antonio Zambujo, who also pairs seamlessly and dreamily with female voices. Adding to the Portugal party is the characteristic sound of the Portuguese guitar, fado’s signature instrument, played joyfully by Mallorcan-born, now fellow Catalan, Gris.
Magalí Sare has treated us to a sumptuous visit through Catalan, Spanish and Portuguese Iberia with her variegated ensemble, her engaging journey of self-discovery, and accomplishment. Esponja is as intelligent as it is enjoyable to listen to. We come away honored to be favored and illuminated by her intimacies, prickled by her ironies, delighted by her tenderness and her whimsy.