The Rachel Beausoleil Quartet: “Happy Birthday, Tom!”
Doors Open For Music at Southminster
Southminster United Church, Ottawa
Wednesday, January 23, 2017 – 12 noon to 1 p.m.

To many North Americans, the composer Antonio Carlos Jobim is synonymous with Brazilian jazz. With his Grammy-winning albums in the 60s and his elegant melodies and subtle bossa rhythms, he created such a recognizable sound that it defined a genre.

In Brazil, he's an icon. In fact, one of the mascots for the Rio Olympics was named “Tom” (the Brazilian nickname for Jobim) after a public vote.

While everyone's heard “The Girl from Ipanema” and “Corcovado” (Quiet Nights), Jobim also wrote many other memorable songs which are not as well known. And, sung in the original Portuguese, his melodies sound even more fluidly beautiful.

It was, therefore, a real treat to have Ottawa vocalist Rachel Beausoleil sing an entire programme of Jobim in Portuguese, for a concert at Southminster United Church in their Wednesday noon series. She was accompanied by guitarist Garry Elliott, bassist Mark Alcorn, and drummer Marilee Townsend-Alcorn.

Beausoleil is currently writing her doctoral thesis on “Música Popular Brasileira” (MPB), a major genre of Brazilian music which includes Jobim's compositions. She's made three extended trips to Brazil in order to take classes from master vocalists, attend conferences, and perform with musicians there – and gained considerable fluency in Portuguese and knowledge of Jobim's music.

Afterwards, Beausoleil said that she had memorized all the Portuguese lyrics to the songs in this concert, which gave her extra confidence in delivering them and made them more compelling. Most of the song lyrics were by Jobim's long-time collaborator, Vinicius de Moraes.

For those oppressed by the snowbanks outside, the sunny and flowing “Outra vez” (Once Again), the bright, catchy “Caminhos cruzados” (Crossing Paths), and the dancing samba rhythms of “O morro não tem vez” (Somewhere in the Hills) provided a warm alternative. The joyous “Chega de saudade” (No More Blues), sung with a smile in Beausoleil's voice, evoked particularly strong applause.

But not everything was upbeat. “Modinha” was a mournful ballad in which her vocals swelled out to fill the space with sadness. Beausoleil noted that “Insensatez” (How Insensitive) was much more emotional, and more of a direct accusation, when sung in Portuguese. She gave it a reflective and quiet interpretation, more in sorrow than in anger.

I particularly liked “Retrato em branco e preto” (Portrait in Black and White), which was originally written as an instrumental and then had lyrics added later by Chico Buarque. It was a beautiful lament, a story of love denied and remembered through photos in an album. Beausoleil sung it initially softly and slowly and then made her vocals more dramatic near the end.

Throughout, Beausoleil's voice was honey-smooth and clear, conveying the emotions and the rhythms within each song. Her love of the music was clearly apparent throughout. She talked about each song before performing it, sometimes explaining its origins, other times talking about a personal connection. For “Dindi”, for example, she recounted how she sang that song for famed Brazilian vocalist Rosa Passos, and was horribly nervous – especially since Passos had destroyed the two singers before her. Luckily, Passos liked her version!

Unfortunately her speech was sometimes muffled (although the music sounded fine), and it was difficult to understand every word in her explanations. This problem wasn't particular to this show: I have had difficulty understanding what musicians were saying at other Southminster concerts as well, especially when I sat in the middle of the church.

Garry Elliott's guitar and Alcorn's bass guitar beautifully evoked the Brazilian feel of the music, and Marilee Townsend-Alcorn's drumming gave the music energy and drive while preserving its essential gentleness.

Alcorn said afterwards that he had brought his bass guitar rather than his double bass to a show rehearsal, simply because it was easier to transport. But when the other musicians heard it, they immediately insisted that it sounded more authentically Brazilian and that he should play it in the actual concert. That was an excellent decision: its more subdued and melodic feel finely complemented the music and the other instruments.

Elliott showed his versatility throughout, sometimes simply creating a light rhythmic bed or echoing the sadness in the vocals, and other times adding strongly accented solos. I particularly liked his reminiscent guitar intro to “Retrato em branco e preto”, and his warm duet with Alcorn in “Insensatez”. The show closed with “Garota de Ipanema” (Girl from Ipanema), with Elliott building on and extending the melody in an inventive solo.

The church was almost full for this show, with more listeners than I'd ever seen before for a noon-hour concert there. One extremely young listener was carried up and down the aisles for a while by series coordinator Roland Graham – and stayed perfectly quiet and soothed by the music.

From the very first number, the audience was caught by the music, applauding strongly after each song. Most of the audience quickly rose for a standing ovation at the end – and demanded an encore. Beausoleil responded with the classic “Corcovado”, which she sang sensitively, letting the lovely phrases roll out naturally and simply. It was a fitting tribute to a renowned composer.

Set list

  1. Caminhos cruzados (Crossing Paths)
  2. Outra vez (Once Again)
  3. Modinha (Ballad)
  4. Chega de saudade (No More Blues)
  5. Dindi
  6. O morro não tem vez (Somewhere in the Hills)
  7. Retrato em branco e preto (Portrait in Black and White)
  8. Insensatez (How Insensitive)
  9. Garota de Ipanema (Girl from Ipanema)
  10. Encore: Corcovado (Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars)

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