World in Stereo: Bill Frisell & Vinicius Cantuária’s Lagrimas Mexicanas

Each week, World in Stereo examines classic and modern world music while striving for a greater appreciation of other cultures.

Bill Frisell & Vinicius Cantuária: Lagrimas Mexicanas (E1, 1/25/11)

Bill Frisell & Vinicius Cantuária: “Aquela Miller”

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The fretwork abilities of guitar luminaries Bill Frisell and Brazilian singer/songwriter Vinicius Cantuária meet on a fantastic Latin jazz record titled Lagrimas Mexicanas (“Mexican Tears” in English).  An expert collaboration that shows itself in every detailed note, Lagrimas Mexicanas has the harmonic twists and turns of a bossa-nova record sliced up by the experimental sounds you’d expect from Frisell. Whether sung in Spanish or Portuguese, Cantuária anchors much of the album with a voice as timeless as Gilberto Gil’s, capturing a worldly romanticism that comes off as seductive as the music that accompanies it.

Though it’s the first exclusive partnership between the two, the musicians have kept good company with each other in the past, playing together in a variety of settings — most notably Frisell’s guest spot on Cantuária’s second international release, Tucumã, in 1999. Cantuária, in return, was a part of the impressive global roster that made up Frisell’s Intercontinentals group.

Growing up in Manaus and Rio De Janiero, Cantuária’s Tropicália sound is informed by the places and people of Brazil. Taking Brazil’s rich musical tradition and relocating to New York in the mid-’90s, he has made a career in pushing the bossa-nova sound forward into the 21st Century.

From album opener “Mi Declaration,” Frisell and Cantuária’s forward-thinking approach to the genre can be heard. All of the classic moods are present: the compact rhythmic variations, the vocal smoothness, the overall gentleness. But as the song progresses, extra percussive instruments, guitar effects, and loops make it gradually more nuanced. As it becomes melodically layered, the musicians subtly launch into sections, giving only faint resemblances to the original, and making hybrid arrangements that could only belong to them.

Frisell’s whole method of operation involves thriving on collaboration. Not only does he bring the finest out of his collaborators, the guitar visionary seems to be at his best on other artists’ projects. Frisell fills “Calle 7” with stunning guitar tones, working through and around Cantuária’s vocals with ease. Instrumental track “La Curva” demonstrates the full breadth of the artists’ chemistry and also highlights Cantuária’s ability to make harmonious arrangements.

Cantuária’s arrangements are inviting, lending Frisell airy melodic spaces to experiment with electronic distortion and his other signature effects, such as using his guitar as a percussive instrument, strumming and plucking rhythms. The upbeat samba-influenced title track is a testament to that. “Aquela Miller” follows suit: the gently plucked guitars supply their own rhythm while the actual percussion sounds like a faint accompaniment.

Though Lagrimas Mexicanas is essentially a bossa-nova record, it is more of an amalgamation of the musicians’ distinct musical aesthetics. It’s a perfect balance — a dynamic that puts Cantuária at the helm, leaving Frisell to give the music’s overall tonal and textural balance an experimental face-lift. Coming together for this special project, they’ve found a groove that enables them to fulfill their avant-modernist agendas without ignoring the important role that popular music has in their respective countries.

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