Miguel Kertsman, director,
(Sony Classical, 1997)

The idea behind Amazonica is a wonderful one. Music director Miguel Kertsman wanted to bring his listeners on a musical journey through Brazil that extended from the colonial era of the 1500s through the present day. This classical gem in the rough incorporates elements from the country's cultural roots -- Brazilian Indians, Old Europe, Africa and even the Middle East -- as well as from the various faiths that can be found there -- Native American beliefs, Western Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Nago or loruba, Bantu, and Gegue (three African cultural ways of life).

This musical tapestry is woven together by three conductors: Miguel Kertsman, Claudio Moura and Sergio Nilsen Barza. At least 50 more individuals contribute their instrumental talents, singing ability or both. When one considers how difficult coordinating all this must have been, Amazonica becomes that much more impressive. The only real issue I had with the recording is that the sound quality does not do the music justice. It sounds like it was recorded with a hand-held tape recorder in a large room. You would think that Sony Classical would have the resources to produce a quality digital recording. Or maybe I'm just spoiled.

If you can get past the inferior recording sound, this really is an interesting CD. If you like Renaissance festivals, I think you would like a lot of these songs. The first of 23 songs is called "Caramuru." This song focuses on the colonization/conquering of Brazil. I truly like the harmonizing of the male and female voices. I would count this as the best song on the CD.

Some of the songs, such as "Toada p'ra Xango," are sung in little-known dialects that have been passed down orally. Consequently, even after looking at the liner notes, I have no idea what is being sung about. But it doesn't seem to matter. Amazonica easily reaches across cultures to grab your ear.

"De Deserto a deserto" is an interesting piece in that the tempo constantly changes from a slow European flute melody to a quick-paced viola led ensemble. I would say that this is another song well worth a listen.

"Somos de Agua Fria lele" is a song full of African percussion and rhythms. Every time I hear it, I keep expecting a Deep Forest techno beat to start at any moment. "Aboio" and "Aboio Grande" finish out Amazonica and are inspired by a Middle Eastern influence. The first starts out as more of a male chanting sans instruments. In the second, the percussion starts and the female vocals quickly kick in. Together, these two could very easily be on a Dead Can Dance album.

Amazonica, despite its terrible recording quality, is not a bad CD. I like the mix of various cultures into one coherent album. I can appreciate the talent that went into making it. I can only imagine that seeing these songs played live and in Brazil would make it that much more enjoyable.

[ by Wil Owen ]

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