By Paul de Barros | Published February 2020
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.
Close To Me: Há Uma Música Do Povo; Tudo Isto É Fado; Dança Do Amor; Verdes Anos; Barco Negro; Fado Da Invejosa; Foi Deus; Hermeto’s Fado For Maria; Tempo Emotivo; Asas Fechadas; E Se Não For Fado. (50:20)
Personnel: Maria Mendes, vocals; John Beasley, keyboards, percussion; Karel Boehlee, piano; Jasper Somsen, bass; Jasper Van Hulten, drums, percussion; Vincent Houdijk, vibraphone (9); Metropole Orkest (1, 5, 6, 10).