Ian Faquini + Paula Santoro ‘Metal na Madeira’ (Ridgeway) 4/5

The Brazilian duo, guitarist/singer Ian Faquini and singer/pianist Paula Santoro, have produced a work of real beauty with new album Metal na Madeira (Metal on Wood) released on Ridgeway Records. Drawing on the past but heading toward the future, the album features their jazz interpretations of traditional rhythms and nordestino music forms from Brazil’s North East, such as maracatú, baião, xote, frevo and toada.*
Ex-Berkley High School jazz guitarist, Ian Faquini’s technically excellent playing is backed by a sensitivity and delicacy that would be the envy of others. He was even mentored by the guitar legend Guinga at 16 years old and it was through Guinga that Ian and Paula met and fell in love with each others music.
Paula Santoro who is originally from the state of Minas Gerais (home to Milton Nascimento amongst many others) has a voice that can be rich yet full of yearning, soft and luscious but insistent and honest. Her work in the lower registers probably resonates with me more than anything. Gorgeous. Paula Santoro’s voice also has that characteristic Brazilian wistfulness (especially on tracks like Dorival Pescador) that fill you in equal measure with melancholy and contentment.

Whilst writing this review I kept coming back to the concept of “delicacy”. My initial notes say: “The whole album is as delicate as a spider’s thread bedecked with the liquid crystals of the morning dew that has caught the first rays of the rising sun. And yet a spider’s web is also incredibly strong and flexible.” And so it is with this album.

At first glance you are struck by the economy of the arrangements, minimal instrumentation and the sense of space around each note. Yet, in there lies its strength. There’s nothing to get in the way of the beauty of the songs or the musicianship or the singing.

I think my favourite track is the opener, Sereia – it seamlessly oscillates between a swirling, almost flamenco feel and a fast jazzy baião rhythm with that indefinable Brazilian lightness and lilt. Beautiful, delicate (that word again!) and uplifting at the same time. Even though the rhythm section speed along like a train at full steam they almost seem to dance along the tracks, barely touching the rails. A joy to listen to. You know you’re in safe hands with these musicians.

The album also counts on a number of excellent guest musicians including frevo legend, Spok on saxophone (on the jaunty title track and also on Pinhem-Pinhem which he arranged). I particularly liked the tasteful accordion of Vitor Gonçalves sprinkled throughout (eg on the delightful and sprightly Jerimbamba and the romantic melancholia of guitar and voice on Mae da Lua – the Mother of the Moon).

Tracks like Vasta Ilha are sparse and fragile as if the slightest breeze would blow it away. And then there are numbers like Aos Olhos da Tarde, Pinhem-Pinhem and Rio-mar which are handled with understatement and sensitivity.

The nine tracks on the album are all penned by Faquini.

I’d already submitted my ‘Best of 2016’ to UKVibe before I heard this album, otherwise it would have made it on the list. However, I am quite sure you’ll see it included in a ‘Best…’ of list somewhere else in UKVibe! A class album.

Glyn Phillips

*If you like this very South American approach that blends traditional folklore with jazz, you might also want to check out “Tierra” (Brabacam) by the Argentinian jazz pianist Martin Robbio and his trio (in collaboration with the percussion quartet, Los Guevaristas). It made it on to the No 1 spot on my Best of 2016 list for UK Vibe! You can read my review of it on UK Vibe too.