CELSO FONSECA / “Celso Fonseca Mixtape”

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What ever happened to bossa nova? Good question, especially because for well over three decades that’s the way many Americas identified Brazilian music. Never mind, in Brazil bossa nova is about as current as jazz is in the states, which is to say both are more a general term for music with rhythmic and improvisation complexity than a genre that helps shape a national music profile. There’s not a whole lot new happening on the bossa nova scene except for Bossacuconova and Celso Fonseca.

The Bossacuconova gang is trying mightily to update the sound by assiduously adding hip hop elements but for my ears it’s Fonseca who is the more successful. Celso’s music is instantly identifiable as bossa nova and that’s both it’s strength and it’s weakness—if you consider sounding like an extension of Tom Jobim a weakness.

To drag all the bossa nova/jazz comparison a bit further, think of West Coast cool jazz from the fifties and sixties, understand that Stan Getz becoming the American voice of bossa nova was just a continuance of the birth of cool movement. Bossa nova was a simmering down of samba—the rhythms less frantic, the vocals less intense, the overall sound less loud. Compared to samba, bossa nova was cool.

All of the above might be one way to characterize Celso Fonseca’s music, except much like Stan Getz, there is steel inside this sound’s softness, intelligence and inquisitiveness rather than calculated vapidity and schmaltzy melodies masquerading as beautiful.
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Born in Rio de Janeiro, 1956, Celso Fonseca is one of the most accomplished Brazilian musicians of the last half of the 20th century.
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Márcio (brother), Athayde (father) and Celso Fonseca
Early on Celso knew he wanted to be a musician and set about the task with an intense dedication to mastering his craft. As a guitarist he has toured and recorded with many of the major artists of contemporary Brazil including Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Djavan, Milton Nascimento, and Caetano Veloso. But beyond gigging, Fonseca is also a leading producer who has a plethora of major projects including very successful recordings for Virginia Rodrigues, Daúde, Daniela Mercury, and Mart'nália, four vocalists who have widely divergent styles. There are very few musician/producers who have achieved comparable success over such a wide swath of musical styles.

Celso Fonseca is also a major composer and arranger. Stylistically, his vocal sound is comparable to Michael Franks but his instrumental and producing skills put him in a class onto himself. For example, compare the two versions of “Slow Motion Bossa Nova.” Both of them could have been a Frank's song but what’s interesting to me is how the song is reshaped over the years. One of the clues to understanding Fonseca is to check out the micro-moves, the small touches rather than the big changes.

Celso Fonseca has won Grammys and other significant awards even though he is probably the least well known of Brazil’s major musical artists. Don’t be fooled by the quietness, Celso is a major mover.
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What impresses me is Fonseca’s ability to strip his music down to what seems to be bare essentials. But if you listen closely what you will hear are slivers of complexity intricately interwoven into each arrangement. Always there are small rhythm elements that peek-a-boo through the track: a triangle here, a funky backbeat sparingly employed, a shaker on the intro, a scraper behind the chorus. Similarly, he mixes languages. Portuguese is the primary language but there are also songs in English, Spanish and French (check out Fonseca’s treatment of Stevie Wonder’s “Superwoman”). Instrumentally and lyrically, Celso’s music is minimalism at its most complex.
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He could have made a whole career out of updating the Jobim sound, but Fonseca’s recent Feriado (2007) release significantly expands his palette to include hip hop and funk done in Fonseca’s characteristic understated manner. The judicious use of horns and choral voices is impressive. Notice that he favors trombones, an instrument seldom used in contemporary music. Listen closely and check out the array of instruments used to create an enticing and intoxicating soundscape. Also, don’t forget Celso’s fluid guitar holding the whole tapestry together.

Perhaps one of the best examples of the growth and organic development of Fonseca’s ever expanding vision are the two versions of “Feriado.” The first is from 2005’s Rive Gauche Rio and exemplifies Fonseca’s signature bossa nova style but two years later, the song is elevated to the title track and is given a radical make over without losing the Fonseca flavor. Rap lyrics in English sit comfortably next to the Portuguese-sung melody. There is no mistake that the track is not funkified including a deft, funky drummer. It’s an impressive transformation.

As an overview of Fonseca’s music, I’ve chosen five tracks each from four of his most recent studio recordings: Natural (2003), Rive Gauche Rio (2005), Polaroides (2006) and Feriado (2007). Enjoy the soft strength of Celso Fonseca.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

Celso Fonseca Mixtape Playlist
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These tracks are from Natural (2003)
01 “A Origem da Felicidade”
02 “The Night We Called It A Day”
03 “Consolação”
04 “Slow Motion Bossa Nova”
05 “Febre”

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These tracks are from Rive Gauche Rio (2005)
06 “Por Acaso Pela Tarde"
07 “Bela”
08 “Feriado”
09 “Mameluco”
10 “Super Woman”

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These tracks are from Polaroides (2006), an album in collaboration with Ronaldo Bastos
11 “Valeu”
12 “Slow Motion Bossa Nova”
13 “A Noite É Meu Ópio”
14 “Out Of The Blues”
15 “La Piú Bella Del Mondo”

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These tracks are from Feriado (2007)
16 “Queda”
17 “Você não Entende Nada”
18 “Beleza”
19 “Feriado”
20 “Viajando na Viagem”

This entry was posted on Monday, August 31st, 2009 at 1:37 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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