What do Portugal and Russia have in common? What is the purpose of gathering, in an album, songs inspired by countries so distant from each other, even though they are written by the same composer? As frequently happens, it is a story linked to that of my own life. When I was invited to participate in the Lisbon Expo of September 1998, I saw in this a sign for a possible turn in my life, not only musical. Portugal had always fascinated me by its decadent and retro lifestyle, the surreal melancholy of its literature, the vaguely familiar sound of its language. Helped by an Italian-Portuguese friend I started learning Portuguese furiously, and began writing a series of Lieder on lyrics (mostly) by Fernando Pessoa, between jazz and the Central Europe tradition, permeated by the colours and cantabile flavour of fado. Thus the album Terras do risco (Amiata, 2002) was born, recorded with some of the most important Portuguese fado musicians (singers Alexandra and Jorge Fernando, with Custodio Castelo at the Portuguese guitar) and some Italian jazz musicians I invited. However, these singers, in spite of their merit, were typical fado musicians, performing my songs with exceeding emphasis and drama. I longed for the understatement of jazz. I felt the need to turn to a singer such as Maria Anadon, who is less bound to traditional fado, and capable to mirror, with her flexible and ambiguously sweet voice, a cosmopolitan (rather than specifically Portuguese) jazz. With her, with my all-time collaborator Giulio Visibelli (soprano sax) and occasionally with guitarist Flavio Minardo, I recorded in 2000 the songs in this album, whose lyrics are no more by Pessoa, but by other Portuguese poets such as Teresa Rita Lopes, Camilo Pessanha, Mario de Sa-Carneiro and Brazilian poet Mario de Andrade.
Possibly since they are not bound to the mysterious and varied pluriverse by Pessoa and his heteronyms, these songs are less complex and articulated than the preceding ones, more linked to the song form, with a melancholy owing more to Brazil than to Portugal. By utter chance, at the time when I was confronting my jazz with Portuguese melancholy, private matters led me to St Petersburg: like Lisbon, a city where Imperial pomp meets with an increasing decadence and marginalization from the world’s cultural centres. Living for a few months in St Petersburg, I found there the same melancholy I thought I had left in Portugal: melancholy as loss, absence, malaise of non-belonging. How could I fail to find in Russian (folk) music and twentieth-century poetry some of that surreal melancholy which had fascinated me in Portuguese music and literature? My meeting with singer and actress Polina Runovskaya did it: she fell in love with my Portuguese songs and translated them into Russian, in spite of the undeniable problems in the two languages’ different prosody. Inspired by the result, and helped by my Russian wife, I set to music (directly from the Russian) some lyrics by twentieth-century Russian poets such as Nina Berberova, Anna Achmatova, Josif Brodskij. The music I built on these lyrics moves freely around the atmospheres of the Portuguese fado, mixing them with some jazz, tango, popular music and twentieth-century avant-garde (Satie, Poulenc, Fauré, but also Weill and Eisler), thus showing the substantial continuity of a quest crossing seemingly distant cultures and countries. This album is inspired by this realization. In spite of the evident jazz features of the songs and of the surrounding improvisation, there is a basic, unifying compositional idea, i.e. that a singing style may coexist with harmonic exploration (it is not by chance that the last song is a Russian popular romance), as does the existential malaise expressed by the Russian and Portuguese music with the energy and vitality belonging, in spite of all, to jazz.
Os tetéus: “I don’t know why the seagulls are crying so much tonight”. The seagulls (tetéus in Brazilian Portuguese) symbolize the delusions and worries torturing the poet through the night; the music mirrors his torment by repeating obsessively a phrase made of few notes, and by getting dramatically quicker towards the end (when the poets asks his beloved to wake up and to open her arms slightly). At the beginning, the voice and sax imitate the seagulls’ flight.
Esse homem que vai sózinho: A lonely man and woman’s meeting is just a useless parenthesis in their lives. Reciprocal intolerance and the end of all (death) await them. Music, built as a quadripartite song, mirrors, in the asymmetry of its initial phrases (the first two ones with seven bars each, the following two with six) the vain quest for an impossible harmony. The theme is followed by a long free collective improvisation, retracing the theme’s harmonies but not its structure.
Através do teu coração: “Through your heart passed a boat, that without you still follow its course”. This short poem by Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen is also sung by famous Portuguese singer Ana Moura in the CD Aconteceu; music represents it very simply and antiquely, by slightly modifying its form to AAB. With its attached chords, it is maintained through the guitar solo, while the soprano sax and piano improvise below the initial and final theme respectively, which is kept in the background like a Passecaille.
Branco e vermelho: A poem about grief, the “most Portuguese” of the poems, by a great symbolist author, the “Portuguese Verlaine”, Camilo Pessanha. Here, grief (a dor, a feminine noun in Portuguese) is personified: “she” moves in, acts, determines a series of devastating effects in the poet, and, in the end, makes him makes him… delight, as only a Portugues may delight in suffering (“ah, que delícia sem fim!”). Music follows the stanza/refrain pattern, following a scheme typical for the European, rather than the jazz, song.
Tristes mãos longas e lindas: A sad and crepuscular poem, where the poet, a great friend of Pessoa, describes with masochism his solitude as if it were somebody else’s. Music, like a nursery song, with vaguely funky echoes, attempts to enlighten the poet’s pain by making it nearly grotesque, except in the final rallentando, when the phrase turns from the major to the minor mode, making the poet’s desolation total. The piano’s meditative solo, at first solitary and later with the soprano sax, reproduces freely the theme’s harmonies.
Amo tracinho te: A fado-mazurka in a ¾ time, almost a paradox. Triple time evokes dancing, movement, while fado is traditionally a march, in 2 or 4, a still, static, petrified march, though occasionally it clings on, nearly stopping… Desperation, as we know, doesn’t help to move. The lyrics, by Teresa Rita Lopes, are nonconformist and paradoxical, just as the music mirroring them. It narrates a joyful separation. Let it go, for once, let this air around us relive “as a ship sailing between two islands”! It closes on a note of hope, quite unusually in the Portuguese poetical world.
Quando minha mão se alastra: Sexuality is seen as a revelation, at the price of a slight shiver, in this poem by Mário de Andrade (“When my hand reaches out your large body / you shiver slightly”). Here too music adapts itself to the song-form (AABB), with a wide and very sensuous phrase (section A) followed by a more rhythmical one on a bossa-nova rhythm (B), as a homage to the Brazilian poet.
Night: A short poem, belonging in the anthology of Italian poems by Brodskij, about the mystery of the Venetian night, which “gives not a crowd of zeroes, i.e. men / though their faces, to tell the truth, become whiter”, and about the “will to cling to living bones / as to a burning mirror”, i.e. rebelling against solitude. The slow, sinuous, delicate music has a rather rigorous polyphonic pace, except for a short lyrical peroration towards the end, underpinned by intervals of sixth. This is a true Lied, non-ascribable to the song-form. In the intermezzo, Giulio Visibelli rips up the mystery by improvising on the tenor sax.
Waltz: a scene from the daily life in Soviet Russia, with a blind musician playing a waltz on a barrel organ, while it’s winter and cold. Thus music is a waltz on tonally ambiguous chords, vaguely à la Satie, assuming lyrical connotations at the end, wavering between the major and minor mode. As if contradicting the simplicity of the phrases, nearly always repeated, the song’s structure is rather complex and articulated: A(8), B(4), CC(4+4), DD(4+4), EE(4+4). Giulio Visibelli’s improvisation moves by rigorously following the theme’s structure.
Dedication in a book: A heartrending farewell letter by poetess Nina Berberova to her husband, poet Vladimir Chodasevic. Her choice is not due to a lack of love, but in order to safeguard her dignity and independence. For such an intense and dramatic text, I chose an easy, flowing music, repeating for eight times the same rhythmic module, citing in turn the Russian lyrics’ rhythm. Only at the end, in the last eight bars, the rhythm breaks and takes the shape of a habanera. It is the only one piece among the Russian songs where I improvise solo at the piano, following the theme’s harmonic structure.
Time’s step and voice: A poem about “Time’s step and voice” by a poet specialising in poetry for children: thus music is very rhythmical, reproducing, with its pressing and obsessive 12/8, the Russian lyrics’ rhythm. In the improvisation, the rhythm is momentarily abandoned, to be taken up again towards the end.
Venice: An aerial and dreamy, rather than decaying Venice, is portrayed in this Italian poem by Anna Achmatova. The music, in ¾, has a modal shape and moves above an obsessive and repeated pedal reproducing the water’s movement while the gondola crosses the canals. Then the rhythm changes to a 4/4 and becomes harmonically more complicated, later to take the initial theme again, this time in 4/4. Once more piano and sax freely improvise, inspired by the theme.
Just Once: Tolko raz (“Just once”) is a popular Russian romance written in 1924 by Boris Fomin on lyrics by Pavel Gherman, on which this CD closes. It is a homage that Polina Runovskaya and I wanted to pay to the Russian musical and poetic tradition, and a way to underpin the continuity between my music and the noble tradition of the popular song, be it Russian, Neapolitan or Portuguese.
Liner Notes by Arrigo Cappelletti
Giulio Visibelli: Sienese saxophonist and flutist, he graduated in flute in 1981 at the “P.Mascagni” Institute in Livorno, he graduated in Jazz Performance at “Berklee College of Music” studying with John LaPorta, Joe Viola, Andy McGhee, George Garzone, Bill Pierce and Gary Burton. He also studied with Joseph Allard and Jerry Bergonzi.
Maria Anadon: One of the three Marias of portuguese jazz, Maria João, Maria Viana, Maria Anadon, with whom she sings in the project Vozes 3, she was born in Portugal in 1961. She immediately devoted herself to jazz, making up to this time four albums of her own. On the albums Cem anos and A terra do Zeca she has interpreted songs of such composers as José Afonso, Carlos Paredes, Carlos Gonçalves and has pursued a personal synthesis of jazz and portuguese fado, Africa and Latin America. The albums A Jazzy Way and Smile, are more ispired by american jazz. In these records she performs songs by Peggy Lee, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, Thelonius Monk, Rodgers&Hammerstein, Quincy Jones and Jon Hendricks, accompanied by the north-american quintet Five Play with such musicians as the drummer Sherrie Maricle, the saxophonist from Israel Anat Cohen, the japanese pianist Tomoko Ohno.
Polina Runovskaya: Singer and actress from St.Petersburg, where she took part in several musical and theatre projects since 1996. In Spring 2002 she created the programme The happy ones’ islands (vocal compositions by Debussy, Rakhmaninov, Glier, Ippolitov-Ivanov and poems by Pessoa), together with the pianist O.Nasonov. Collaborations with the compositor V.Bondarenko, the pianist and compositor S.Oskolkov, the Honoured Artist of Russia pianist M.Aptekman, and many others. Participation in various actions, performances, festivals: TRAFICS (Nantes, France), International Vocal Festival Deep throat (Moscow), St.Petersburg festivals: Scythian-3,5,6, White nights, Another music, Baltic house, Sergey Oskolkov & friends and others. Organisation and conduction of training courses based on her own system Voice - Movement - Soul in Moscow and St.Petersburg.
Arrigo Cappelletti: Born in Brunate (Como) on February 12 1949, after a degree in Philosophy and a teaching experience in high schools, he dedicated himself to jazz. He has so far relased 30 records, at least six of them (Samadhi, Reflections, Plains, Terras do risco, Trio in New York, Mysterious) contributed to define an Italian way to jazz made of lyricism, introspection and connections with other cultures. Among the several festivals he attended, it is worth mentioning: Pori Festival (Finland, 1991), Festival “Sanremo: the other music” (1993), Jazzitalia Festival (Verona, 1994), Noto jazz festival (1996). Portugal EXPO 98, Festival Sete Sois Sete Luas (Portugal, 1999), Clusone jazz 2000, Jazz & wine festival (Gorizia, 2000), Festival “The voices of jazz” (Milan Auditorium, 2003), Iseo jazz, Siena jazz, Reggio Calabria Ecojazz (2004) Festival Villa Celimontana (Rome, 2005), Siena Jazz 2005, Novara Jazz 2007, Santannarresi Jazz (2009), Padua Jazz (2009), Udine & Jazz (2011), Iseo Jazz (2011), Chiasso International Jazz Festival (Switzerland , 2013). He has played with Lew Soloff, Barre Philips, Bill Elgart, Olivier Manoury, Steve Swallow, John Hebert, Bruce Ditmas, Ralph Alessi, Mat Maneri. Very active in jazz teaching, he has published several books covering criticism and autobiography: The perfume of jazz (ESI), Paul Bley, the logic of chance (L’Epos), translated into English by Vehicule press of Montreal, and The adventures of a jazz musician-philosopher (Arcana).