'Mares Profundos' is finely crafted and beautifully presented, with the marvellous...
Jon Lusk 2004
It was in 1998 that international audiences first heard the extraordinary voice of Brazilian diva Virginia Rodrigues. She'd been 'discovered' by an ecstatic Caetano Veloso, in a rehearsal with a theatre group in her hometown of Salvador da Bahia, the epicentre of Afro-Brazilian culture.
Veloso was so impressed by her rich, almost operatic contralto that he became her mentor and musical director, initiating the recording of her first album Sol Negro and its follow-up Nós in 2000.
Although this album doesn't have the same immediate appeal as her earlier work, it could be seen as the most consistent of her albums and is certainly worth persevering with.
This time around, Veloso and new producer Luiz Brasil guide Rodrigues through the 'Afro-samba' song cycle, written and recorded as a complete album in 1966 by bossa nova pioneers Vinícius de Moraes and Baden Powell, and now beefed-up with four new songs from the same era.
It's highly appropriate that a black working class woman from Bahia who is the essence of the culture which inspired such work (by two middle class white Brazilians) should reinterpret it. But don't expect mad carnivalesque work-outs; much of the material belongs in the far more erudite samba-canção end of the samba spectrum.
Rodrigues appears in a wide variety of settings which range from stripped down percussion and guitar to loungey bossa-tinged grooves with suave brass, or even luxuriant string arrangements (heard to best effect on the deliriously aquatic "Canto de Iemanjá").
The backing vocals are often exquisite, as on "Canto de Ossanha", with its heavenly choir effects. Like the other highlights, "Berimbau" and "Consolação", these songs will probably be familiar to fans of Brazilian music and it's to the credit of all those involved that they appear in novel new forms.
"Mares Profundos" is finely crafted and beautifully presented, with the marvellous poetic lyrics in both original and translated form. Rodrigues is singing as well as ever too, but I can't help thinking it would be nice to hear her in a more rootsy setting, cutting loose with that powerful instrument a little more often than she does here.