Maria Mendes

Close To Me
(Justin Time)

Portuguese jazz vocalist Maria Mendes collaborates with pianist and arranger John Beasley (best known for his band MONK’estra) and Holland’s Metropole Orkest on Close To Me, a bold album-long riff on traditional fado music.

Singing with crisp clarity in Portuguese and scatting in a hauntingly melismatic manner, Mendes reimagines classics associated with fadista Amália Rodrigues, experimenting with and cutting to the heart of these sorrowful songs. From a grandly orchestrated, dreamy opener Mendes turns to charming, 3/4 swing on “Tudo Isto É Fado” and “Foi Deus”; takes an operatic tour on “Barco Negro”; delivers a passionate, lushly orchestrated “Asas Fechadas”; and gives a deliberate, singer-songwriter-like feel to the gorgeous “E Se Não For Fado,” which playfully asks, as does the album, “What if this isn’t fado?”

A songwriter of considerable invention, Mendes contributes three originals, the Brazilian-flavored “Dança Do Amor”; a jaunty jazz meditation, “Fado Da Invejosa”; and a Bach-like scat duet with Vincent Houdijk on vibraphone. Mendes sings two other wordless vocals: a free take on the film theme “Verdes Anos” and an appropriately zig-zagging “Hermeto’s Fado For Maria,” by Hermeto Pascoal with Beasley on Fender Rhodes.

Like the blues, fado is a music of both longing and joy, or as Portuguese speakers say, saudade. And Mendes conveys it with every breath.