RIVE GAUCHE RIO Celso Fonseca
Paris and Rio. For romantics, these two cities can conjure up all kinds of picture postcard images--cafes on the Left Bank, the lights of the Eiffel Tower glittering on the Seine, fair-skinned pouty girls riding on the back of their boyfriends' scooters. Then catch a supersonic jet across the ocean, down past the statue of Christ on Corcovado mountain to the bustling traffic, chic discos and the sun-kissed Brazilian girls on the beach (Ipanema being the epicenter of sun-kissed girls everywhere).
As the title suggests, Celso Fonseca's new album is a love letter to both Paris and his native Rio de Janeiro, capturing all the transatlantic mystery and romance in twelve perfectly wrought songs.
His last release, 2003's Natural, was hands down one of my favorite albums of the past five years. Like an heir to Joao Gilberto's famous "white album," it was all sea and sand, vagabond hearts and quiet magic.
Still drawing on classic '60s bossa nova, Fonseca expands his palette here with all kinds of delectable sounds. Most prominent is the Fender Rhodes, that keyboard of choice for early '70s progressive jazz and soft rock. In "Feriado" and "Perdi," he blocks out rich, percussive chords, then lets his soft voice parry with windblown flutes and gut string solos. "Um Mundo Estranho" nods to Tropicalia, filtering its haunting melody through backwards guitars and an autumnal string quartet. "Atlantico," with its wordless vocal, minor chords and Bahia rhythm, manages to sound like a collaboration between Michel LeGrand and Ary Barroso. "Don De Fluir" is a Spanish language duet with Jorge Drexler (who won the 2005 Oscar for Best Song for his tune from The Motorcycle Diaries). "O Rio Para Tras" and "Por Acaso, Pela Tarde" are straight-on bossas, as ripe with aching beauty (that happy-sad feeling the Brazilians call "saudade") as anything from the pen of Jobim or Valle. On the album's biggest surprise, a cover of Damien Rice's "Delicate," Fonseca sets his pensive guitar and vocal against a hypnotic loop of conga and stray samples.
As a session guitarist and co-producer, Fonseca has worked with greats such as Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento and Gilberto Gil, and he displays the same deft touch, bringing a tactile intimacy to the production that envelops the listener in a way that so few albums today manage.
Finally, don't worry if you don't speak Portuguese (I don't but hope to someday). Rive Gauche Rio is so welcoming and full of musical beauty that it will stamp your passport and give you first-class accommodations in two of the world's most enchanting cities. Bill DeMain