Morlembaum 2 & Ryuichi Sakamoto | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Morlembaum 2 & Ryuichi Sakamoto

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The new album Casa (Sony Classical) unites Brazilian cellist Jaques Morelenbaum and his wife, Paula, with Japanese composer and pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto, who's collaborated with the cellist on and off since the early 90s; the program comprises compositions both famous and obscure by Antonio Carlos Jobim, and it's steeped in atmosphere and history. In the 50s and 60s, Jobim practically defined the emergent bossa nova style, and of his roughly 300 songs, enough have become worldwide standards to give him the status of a Gershwin, Berlin, or Arlen. Jaques recorded often with Jobim from the mid-80s till his death in 1994, and produced perhaps his last great recording, 1987's Passarim; in 1995 the Morelenbaums formed a touring quartet with the composer's son Paulo and grandson Daniel. But the greatest historical resonance of Casa involves the circumstances of its creation. All but two of the tracks were recorded in Jobim's Rio de Janeiro home, overlooking Corcovado--the mountain on which stands a famous hundred-foot statue of Christ, and which itself inspired one of Jobim's most haunting melodies (known in English as "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars"). And Sakamoto played Jobim's own instrument, an experience he's said felt like the master's spirit coming "into me through the fingerprints on the keys of his piano." But one need not rely on the mystical to explain the effect such a setting might have on the music--the sounds of birds and bugs that drifted through the open windows, as well as field recordings from a nearby ocean beach, were mixed into some of the songs, evoking the natural intimacy that informs many of Jobim's compositions. The album presents newly lustrous renditions of even the best-known Jobim tunes. Paula Morelenbaum sings in tones of sweet, dark claret, tinged with saudade, the bittersweet melancholy that deepens Brazilian expressions of love and joy; the sparse accompaniment, marked by the sweeping sadness of the cello, complements this quality, and the near total absence of percussion focuses attention on the purity of the melodies, demonstrating their well-earned place not just as pop phenomena but as genuine 20th-century art songs. Sunday, September 8, 8 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tomoko Yoneda.

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