'Horse and Fish delivers a crisp modern fusion of smoochy bossa and more upbeat...
Chris Moss 2004-05-28
Since the earliest days of bossa nova in the 1950s, Brazilian singers and musicians have competed with each other to be the most understated, subtle practitioners of the form.
Vinicius Cantuária is arguably the current master of the subliminally sensual. His stirring, sprawling cover of Gilberto Gil's "Procissao", which opens this, his 11th studio album, sets the mood with a mere ripple of subterranean bass and voice at the outset. This surges slowly over nine minutes plus only as far as a plangent trumpet solo by Michael Leonhart - the music doesn't so much progress as open up and out.
The remaining nine tracks vary in tempo and tone but each follows suit in the way it tests the water, feels around for space and never leaps in headfirst. Cantuária's voice is a velvety whisper most of the time, easily ranging high and low but always serving primarily as an instrument, a sound source that fits in with the lightly picked guitar, gentle keyboards and meandering streams of percussion.
At his best, Cantuária is doing with Brazilian music something akin to Dino Saluzzi's soulsearching through tango or to Miles Davis in more abstract mode. Fed by a tradition that has been enriched by stellar Brazilian talents like Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto, but also by Chet Baker and Bill Evans, Horse and Fish delivers a crisp modern fusion of smoochy bossa and more upbeat rock-influenced Tropicalia grounded in jazz.
In the shorter, poppier, less ambitious songs, Cantuária lacks the audacity and iconoclasm of, say, Chico Buarque or the early Cateano Veloso. Sexy and suggestive as his songs always are, they are also just a tad too safe and arguably too serene in spirit to break through. Thankfully, there are vast expanses of thoughtful calm between the riffs, where fans of bossa will happily do what they always do - dance, lying down; or lie down, dancing.