Nelson Cavaquinho – Nelson Cavaquinho (1972)

Photobucket
Photobucket

Nelson Cavaquinho (1972)

RCA Victor 103.0047
Reissue 2004 RCA/Victor Essential Classics

1 Quando eu me chamar saudade
(Guilherme de Brito, Nelson Cavaquinho)
2 Tatuagem
(Guilherme de Brito, Nelson Cavaquinho)
3 Eu e as flores
(Jair do Cavaquinho, Nelson Cavaquinho)
4 Palhaço
(Oswaldo Martins, Washington, Nelson Cavaquinho)
5 Sempre Mangueira
(Geraldo Queiroz, Nelson Cavaquinho)
6 Deus não me esqueceu
(Armando Bispo, Ananias Silva, Nelson Cavaquinho)
7 A flor e o espinho
(Alcides Caminha, Guilherme de Brito, Nelson Cavaquinho)
8 Degraus da vida
(César Brasil, Antônio Braga, Nelson Cavaquinho)
9 Notícia
(Alcides Caminha, Norival Bahia, Nelson Cavaquinho)
10 Lágrima sem júri
(Fernando Mauro, Nelson Cavaquinho)
11 Luto
(Sebastião Nunes, Guilherme de Brito, Nelson Cavaquinho)
12 Luz negra
(Amâncio Cardoso, Nelson Cavaquinho)

This just may be the most perfect samba album ever. Hard thing to say, though, and I am saying it mostly because anytime I listen to Nelson Cavaquinho sing, I feel like the guy just WAS samba. The original liner notes (lovingly and thankfully reproduced in this reissue) by Sergio Cabral call him an “unconventional” singer, with a voice “full of cachaça, suffering, and bohemia.” Cabral goes through great pains to insist that nothing could pull Nelson out of the botequins of Lapa and Praça Tiradentes, those charming corner bars where people could sit around a table talking, arguing, or playing samba until there were dozens of bottles under the table (to be counted by the astute bartender at the end of it all), until the first rays of the sun sent them home. Nelson carries this life in the timbre of his voice and his melodic phrasing, and while he might have lacked the ‘prettiness’ of a voice like Cartola’s, his sambas shared with that peer and master what is sort of a Mangueira trademark – the sweetly melancholic samba driven by minor chord progressions, augmented by augmented chords and blue notes, exultant without being strident as they point the way through suffering through their wisdom of poetry, song, conviviality and companionship.

Nelson Cavaquinho would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year. Happy birthday, Mestre Nelson!

The album is full of classics but I have to mention some highlights. The first three tracks are a killer opening for any album: “Quando Eu Me Chamar Saudades,” “Tatuagem” and “Eu e As Flores.” The lyrics are parsimony exemplified, “O meu úlitmo fracasso, está na tatuagem do meu braço// My last weakness (or mistake) is tattooed there on my arm” from ‘Tatuagem,’ or “When I pass by the flowers, they almost speak out to me, ‘Go now, that tomorrow we will decorate your end,” from ‘Eu e As Flores,” evoking the image of a man in a casket with flowers left on him by friends and family.. This would seem maudlin if sung by anyone but a genius sambista, I think. And that tune has a marvelously ‘jazzista’, swinging samba-jazz arrangement. By which I mean — it is perfectly swinging for the tune but does not overdue it: Nelson would sound kind of ridiculous singing like Jair Rodriguez or Wilson Simonal. Somehow he sings over the band and it just *works*. It is principally the drumming that gets me on it — I have no proof, by I SWEAR it sounds like Wilson das Neves on the drum kit on this album. The guy played the skins on hundreds of records, so its very possible..

That first tune, “Quando Eu Me Chamar Saudades”, could have been Nelson’s epitaph. It does no justice to his poetics to summarize thus, but basically it is an eloquent articulation pointing out that it is easy to give homage to someone after they’ve passed away, say what an excellent guy they were, maybe cry a little, maybe even make him a guitar out of pure gold; But it’s another thing to be there when they are living flesh and bone, struggling to get by. There is a short documentary by Leon Hirzman made in 1969 showing Nelson languishing in relative poverty and following him around on his daily routine, as well as playing some tunes. I had that documentary on a bootleg DVD made by a community of samba enthusiasts in São Paulo, converted from VHS. It’s great, if you can find it — I swear I saw in a newspaper that it had made it onto DVD legitamately but I have not been able to track it down yet. In any event, when I hear “Quando Eu Me Chamar Saudades” I often think of some of those images.

It hurts me to levy a criticism against an album I like so much, but I can’t help it: the one weakness of this record is that the winning formula of this album — the arrangements, a clean, ‘live’ mix with prominent cavaquinho, occasional woodwinds, and a chorus of women responding soulfully to Nelson’s verses (occasionally carrying entire verses on their own without him) — is used throughout the album, to the point where some of the tunes start to come off… How do I say this? It’s not “repetitious”, because each tune is unique and distinguished by the writing of Nelson and his partners (principally Guilherme de Brito). Perhaps I can say that it is kind of like receiving different gifts in identical boxes with identical wrapping paper (embolagem). I hesitate to even mention this because it really only becomes an issue when you’ve listened to the record for the third time on the same day; something I have been doing a lot lately since I found this RCA/Victor reissue.

Okay, I have strayed from my narrative here: there are plenty of other classic sambas on this album: “A Flor e o espinho,” “Degrau da vida,” and “Luto” are particular favorites of mine lately. Again, the lyrics are indispensible, but even if you don’t understand them, Nelson’s voice has an ability to communicate the meaning across language barriers. No shit, I really believe this. It’s a talent that very few have, and he had it.

Enjoy this classic album and piece of the musical and cultural patrimony of Brazil!

Full artwork scanned at 600 dpi and downsized to 300 dpi included. Composer credits embedded in ID tags along with Portuguese accents and diacriticals.

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