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Henrique Cazes and Sambacana fill St. Brigid's with gentle Brazilian rhythms (review)

Cavaquinho virtuoso Henrique Cazes made harmonious music with Toronto percussionist Mark Duggan on vibes ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Henrique Cazes and Sambacana
Ottawa Chamberfest
St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts and Humanities
Friday, August 2, 2013 - 10 p.m.

View photos of this concert

Henrique Cazes is a virtuoso on the cavaquinho, the highest-pitched member of the guitar family, and one of the most characteristic instruments of Brazilian music. If you see Brazilian jazz groups, you can't miss it – it's the instrument with four strings that looks like a baby guitar – but most musicians double on it with guitar. At his concert Friday at Chamberfest, Cazes played cavaquinho exclusively and showed how flexible and interesting its sound can be.

It became even more interesting in a new partnership. This current tour is the first time Cazes has teamed his cavaquinho with a vibraphone, and the result was exquisite – and quite unexpected. Toronto percussionist Mark Duggan on vibes not only created some lovely melodies on his own, he followed, accented, and counterpointed Cazes. Together, they produced a interesting and harmonious mixture of tones and textures. Surprisingly, given their completely different origins and methods of producing sound, the two instruments share similar tonal qualities and have a similar mixture of percussion and melody.

The Brazilian musician is touring with Sambacana, a Toronto group which specializes in Brazilian music. It consists of Alan Heatherington on pandeiro and drums, Duggan on vibes, piano, and a huge variety of Brazilian percussion, Louis Simão on electric bass, and Wagner Petrilli on acoustic guitar. They played a 90-minute set: the first 60 minutes were all-instrumental, while the last 30 also included vocalist Aline Morales.

With 37 years of professional experience performing, recording, or writing about Brazilian music, Cazes is an expert in the field (he was also World Music Artist-in-Residence at the University of Toronto this year). He has written an entire book about the choro, the Brazilian popular music instrumental style which he particularly specializes in; during the concert, he performed tributes to choro pioneers such as Waldir Azevedo and Pixinguinha.

The concert was overall melodic and listenable, ranging from heartfelt ballads to brilliantly-fast jazz pieces, but always carefully modulated and with a gentle, light-hearted feel. Cazes included some of his own compositions, including the overture he wrote for a Portuguese TV documentary on the cavaquinho.

The show closed with a highly syncopated piece, with all the musicians ending up playing some sort of percussion. After loud applause, they restarted, walking off the stage and down the centre aisle while still playing. Several audience members were dancing, many others were clapping in time to the infectious beat, as they stood in the middle of the sanctuary still playing, until they finally ended with a flourish.

What was otherwise an outstanding concert was, unfortunately, marred by one problem: muddy sound, particularly but not solely on the vocals. St. Brigid's – a very resonant church with a delay time of four seconds – is not always suited for a combination of strong percussion and vocals. There were times when the guitar couldn't be heard – and more unfortunately, I couldn't distinguish any words in Morales' vocals (and it wasn't just that she was singing in Portuguese, because a Portuguese-speaker near me also had serious difficulties). For the first part of the concert, Cazes was introducing the pieces (in English) with what sounded like interesting information about the composers, but the combination of his strong accent and the church acoustics made it impossible to hear more than half of what he said.

Much beautiful music still remained, but it was a pity the sound balance wasn't quite right for this location and these musicians.

    – Alayne McGregor

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All images ©Brett Delmage, 2013
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