By Kabir Sehgal
Pitanga, from songwriter and pianist John Finbury and featuring vocalist Marcella Camargo, is the second album of its kind: original songs, mostly penned by maestro Finbury, to be performed by songstress Camargo.
With songs composed by Finbury, Ned Claflin, and Patty Brayden (co-arranger as well as lyricist), this album provides a panoramic of Brazilian music forms and traditions: samba-reggae, bossa nova, and Latin jazz. Sung in Portuguese and English, the tunes no doubt convey a visceral authenticity, borne of Brazilian music traditions and inspired by the likes of great artists: Antonio Carlos Jobim, for starters. At the same time, the music hews to the songwriters’ own voice, furnishing a fresh and intrepid voice. Not only is the song writing first class, but the band is composed of veritable all-stars in their own right: Tim Ray, Oscar Stagnaro, Mark Walker, Ricardo Monzon, Eduardo Mercuri, Norman Zochar, Eugene Friesen, and the late Roberto Cassan.
The album opens with the title song, Pitanga; the king of the Brazilian fruits. The flavors of the fruit are captured in the Samba-Reggae Abaixo rhythms and melodies of this tune. Next up is Feathered Thing, a Jobim-inspired Bossa Nova. The lyrics for this composition is written by a tunesmith, Brayden, inspired by wordsmiths Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and The Bard. Coração Me Diga is a more pensive track, with jazz-infused harmonies; Entre Pedacinhos opens with a gorgeous vocal and piano jazz waltz duet that transitions elegantly into a Bossa. Paraty is named for the beautifully preserved Portuguese colonial town in Rio de Janiero; bandits and lovers often steal away in its quarters. This upbeat, danceable tune reflects the lush history and life of in these celebrated vistas. Dia Ideal, with Portuguese lyrics by Claflin, reflects the more intimate and emotional expressive abilities of the artists. Meu Velho Friend appeared as an instrumental on the group’s last critically acclaimed album, Imaginario; here, it’s given fresh life with the spoken word of lyrics and a skillfully patterned vocal line. There Among The Pieces artfully showcases the band’s versatility: written with Willie Nelson in mind, Camargo proves to be not only a tantalizing Brazilian singer but an adept country singer. The album closes with A Great Believer In Luck, a touching homage to Finbury’s father – a Marine who participated in (and lived through) eleven marine landings in the South Pacific during World War II. He is said to be a great believer in luck.
But it’s not luck that makes this album remarkable. It’s the genius of Finbury to write music that’s equally thought provoking, introspective, exuberant, and entertaining. This album is a reminder of the stay-up-all-night enjoyments of listening to music because its every turn of phrase, twist of chord, and twirl of improvisation had me wanting more.
New York Times bestselling author
Multi-Grammy & Latin Grammy Award winning producer