Silvio Caldas – Madrugada, 1935 – 1938 (1968 LP)

Silvio Caldas
LP released 1968 on Imperial (IMP 30107)
Recordings, 1935-38

A1         Chão De Estrelas     (1937)
A2         Arrependimento         (1935)
A3         Arranha-Céu         (1937)
A4         Inquietação         (1935)
A5         Madrugada         (1936)
A6         Minha Palhoça         (1935)
B1         Quase Que Eu Disse     (1935)
B2         Pastorinhas         (1937)
B3         Confessando Que Te Adoro (1937)
B4         Professora         (1938)
B5         Choro Por Teu Amor     (1937)
B6         Nunca Mais         (1936)

This post is dedicated to minha sereia no outro lado do mar, Marta.  Veja que tô em baixo tua janela.

Needledrop info: Vinyl -> Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair light settings; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – resampled (and dithered for 16-bit) using iZotope RX Advanced. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag&Rename.

I have a recurring dream where I am walking the streets of Santa Teresa alone at night.  It’s late and there’s nobody really around, just a few stray couples in the scattered restaurants and cafes. Sometimes I am following the old trolley rails, the bondê that still runs there, and sometimes just walking freely, but always climbing and descending, climbing and descending the old hills of that neighborhood.  I drink deeply of the bucolic air, a few degrees cooler and more refreshing here than elsewhere in the city, and as I turn a corner I hear a faint trace of a song.  In those hills on an otherwise silent evening it is difficult to gauge the providence of such sounds, how near or how far their source, and this  uncertainty is only amplified in dreams. But the wind carries the notes of a flute from some stray window, balanced above a slowly strummed guitar  and a muted cavaquinho.  The road twists around further and I am greeted by one of Santa Teresa’s breathtaking views, an ocean of city lights undulating below me, crowned with wisps of cloud blown in off the sea and backlit by moonlight.  An then, overpowering all of it, soars the voice of Silvio Caldas, that vozeirão, and the words of Orestes Barbosa like a broom sweeping me away on their Chaõ de Estrelas.

This LP is a late-60s compilation of classic recordings originally on 78 rpm discs.  As was typical for the Imperial label, the jacket contains no useful information whatsoever, but I’ve cobbled together the most likely recording dates of the songs by consulting the Dicionário Cravo Albin da MPB.  Caldas recorded many of these songs multiple times but these all seem to be the original versions, with quite a few of them being the A and B sides of the same 78.

Silvio Caldas is most usually thought of as the godfather of seresta or serenata, a genre of music whose Iberian name is a linguistic cousin of the English “serenade.”  Seresta is indeed music meant to be played late at night beneath the window of would-be lover, sung with voices pregnant with unironic romanticism and copious amounts of vibrato.  As a genre it is also related to the modinhas, lundus, and choros that also play a part in the origins of samba, and all of which are felt in the repertoires of the other big stars of Brazil’s “Golden Era” like Francisco Alves and Orlando Silva.   But although he is immortalized as “O Serresteiro” (incidentally, the name of an LP on the Recife-based Mocombo label that I stupidly passed up buying once…), Silvio was also an ace at singing sambas and marchinhas.  This brief little LP collection represents those styles well here too.  The immortal sambista Noel Rosa contributed the upbeat Pastorinhas, and Ary Barroso wrote the philosophical paean to romantic suffering and equanimity, Inqueitação.  The lyrics to Inquietação are brilliant, but it’s the partnership between Caldas and Orestes Barbosa for which most people remember Silvio the Seresteiro.  Orestes Barbosa was an established poet, writer of crônicas, and critic back in the days when those roles didn’t exclude active participation in popular music.  He wrote a an enormous amount of song lyrics, collaborating with the likes of Noel Rosa, Francisco Alves, Hervé Cordovil, and others.  But it is the stunning Chão de Estrelas with Silvio Caldas that most people associate with his name today, and at the time it even drew compliments from modernist poet Manuel Bandeira.   The song has been rerecorded countless times from artists as diverse as Maysa to Os Mutantes.  It has that rare perfect fusion of melody and words that is instantly recognizable in anyone’s interpretation.  It’s worth noting that the lyrics are truly written as poem, without a single line or stanza repeated throughout.   Unfortunately the only other collaborations from the pair featured on this collection are “Arranha-céu” and “Quase que eu disse.”

The production on these old records from the 30s was incredible as well.  In an interview at SESC during the 1990s, Silvio went on a bit about the luxuries afforded to artists in modern recording studios, and how back in his day they had none of that.  It was a bunch of people crammed into a tiny little room and arranged around a single microphone.  Then it is all the more impressive that the results usually had such a great balance of instruments and voice.  The version of Chão de Estrelas here not only sounds great but has an especially effective execution, with all the instruments taking their lead from Silvio’s vocal and guitar, at times dragging the beat and giving the arrangement an unhurried feel that I haven’t heard on any subsequent recordings (including Silvio’s) that tend to play it with straight meter.   Some of the tunes here have piano as well.  Sometimes it sounds like they had to put the piano in the hallways outside the sound booth, which may well have been the case! On other tunes like Arranha-céu the piano is up front in the mix.  Another arrangement I love comes early in the collection: Arrependimento (Silvio Caldas – Cristovão de Alencar), which is driven along by pandeiro, the only percussion instrument to feature on most of these recordings.  The aural gooseflesh moment comes about halfway through, when Silvio sings “ai, meu deus” before a slight pause in the music after which the full band comes back in with exquisite vocal harmonies to sing the next verse.  These ‘época de ouro’ songs were almost didactic lessons in musical and poetic economy, little essays packed into three minutes or less.

This needledrop was done close to a year ago when my setup was different, and as tempting as it was to start all over with my improved system, I just don’t have time.  Although my current soundcard has a lower noise floor and the capacity for a higher sampling rate, the nature of the source material is such that I think it would be a case of diminishing returns — this is, after all, an LP that used 78s as their source material and is quite noisy to begin with.