The only mystery is why this disc has taken so long to appear.
Jon Lusk 2008
Samba came of age in Rio de Janeiro during the early 20th century, nurtured in the city's 'samba schools'. Velha Guarda Da Portela are a group of veteran musicians from one such institution, whose traditions have long been transmitted orally. Aware that this left them vulnerable to extinction,
Brazilian MPB star Marisa Monte – whose father was a director of the Portela Samba School – decided to seek out, dust down and restore the finest songs in their repertoire, none of which had been recorded before. Tudo Azul is the result, augmented with four bonus tracks from two other albums recorded in 2001 and cut from a similar cloth. The only mystery is why this disc (the bulk of which was recorded in 1999) has taken so long to appear.
It's to Monte's credit that she avoids the overcooked production that detracted slightly from her recent fine album Universo Ao Meu Redor. Instead, she favours a simple stripped down sound for the understated but effervescent acoustic arrangements. These feature the ukulele-like trill of
cavaquinho, mellow 7-string guitar, the occasional woozy trombone and samba’s trademark percussive battery of booming surdo drum, the cheeky-sounding cuíca (friction drum), tambourine, pandeiro and so on. Monte is a great singer, but only allows herself two honeyed vocals, the best of which appears on the delightful Volta Meu Amor. The other guest stars include samba smoothie Paulinho da Viola (A Noite Que Tudo Esconde), Cristina Buarque (somewhat lost in the chorus of Monha Vontade) and Moreno Veloso, who sounds much like his father Caetano on Vou Me Embora.
But it's the Velha Guarda ('old guard') who take centrestage. Some of their singers such as Casemiro da Cuíca and Jair Do Cavaquinho (both taking their stage names from the instruments they also play) seem a little wobbly on their feet, even if they can still swing. But thankfully, Monarco still sounds in rude health and takes the lion's share of the lead vocals. All are usually accompanied by a wonderfully rousing chorus of backing/call and response singers – typified by Você Me Abandonu – underlining the communal nature of this music.