Lágrimas Mexicanas

Vinicius Cantuária / Bill Frisell

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Lágrimas Mexicanas Review

by Thom Jurek

Lágrimas Mexicana is a completely unique collection of songs that draws heavily from traditional Latin and Brazilian rhythms, and weds them to 21st century jazz improvisation and sonic effects in a luxuriant braid of colors, textures, styles, and languages. Having known one another for 25 years, Brazilian guitarist, songwriter, and percussionist Vinicius Cantuaria and American guitarist Bill Frisell have occasionally played on one another's albums. They have long sought the opportunity to collaborate on an album-length project. After Cantuaria moved to Brooklyn from Brazil, it presented itself. Arriving in New York, Cantuaria was deeply taken with the sheer diversity of the Spanish-speaking people and sounds he encountered on the streets, from Cubans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Venezuelans, and Mexicans; they drew him in, and his songwriter's instincts began to address what he'd heard. Here he plays acoustic guitar, percussion, and sings in his beautiful airy baritone. Frisell, who understood and orchestrated Cantuaria's vision, plays electric guitar and employs loops and efx that meld provocatively yet seamlessly with these songs. The various languages -- Spanish, Portuguese, and English -- concern themselves with the various manifestations of love, from spiritual to carnal to platonic. The opener, "Mi Declaracion," begins with organic and synthetic percussion; Frisell plays a nocturnal, breezy wah-wah funk line before the tune asserts itself as a present-to-future Mexican sonidero. Cantuaria's and Frisell's guitars meet and play off one another on the utterly haunting and lovely "Calle 7," that touches on both ranchera and norteño but is its own sleek, sexy (post-)modern animal. Afro-Colombian rhythms meet samba in the lilting ballad "Lágrimas de Amor," where Frisell's guitar loops itself to create a counter rhythm and elongate the elegant textural elements at work in the structure. The lyric is tender, the melody is heartbreakingly beautiful. "Aquela Mulher" brings together a nuevo cancion melody with Afro-Brazilian rhythms. The only tune that deviates from the Latin and Brazilian tapestry is the brief closing number "Forinfas," which melds early jazz and pop, but from Cantuaria's voice, it becomes something wholly other. Lágrimas Mexicana is an ambitious yet utterly accessible album that would have been just as at home on David Byrne's Luaka Bop label. It is at once warm, sexy, and visionary. It presents two different yet very complementary artists in a collaboration that borders on brilliant.

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