Choro is the Brazilian form of the blues. Though originally slow in tempo, choro has become faster over the years, until it is now a showcase for the abilities of the musicians who play it. In this way, it could be looked at as the equivalent to American bluegrass music and much of Celtic music—on the surface it is fast, upbeat, and seemingly light-hearted, but underneath it is fueled by tragedy and loss. They’re both built around emotional contradictions that create emotional depth. Carioca (which means “native of Rio de Janeiro”) is an album of choro and samba music (also another form of the blues) played and mostly arranged by Carlos Barbosa-Lima, a Brazilian guitarist and national treasure.
Barbosa-Lima was born in São Paulo and began learning the guitar at seven years old. He played his first concert at 12 and began recording while still in his teens. His playing is characterized by a rich tone with subtle color effects that range from deep and cello-like to as light as a harpsichord. Barbosa-Lima shows the lineage of his influences in his playing. There’s the classical technique he learned from Andrés Segovia, combined with the complex rhythms from his native Brazilian culture, and the capacity for ingenuous improvisations from contemporary jazz. Particularly effective are “Passeio No Rio” with its exotic percussion effects, “Samba De Orfeu” (from the movie Black Orpheus) with its delightfully intricate and facile performance, and the languidly beautiful and sensual “Romance.”
There are a couple of stand-out musicians along for the ride. Danny Rivera, a long-time star in the Latin American music scene, sings on three numbers—”Renunciar,” “Entre Guitarra Y Voz,” and “La Voz Del Guiro.” His voice is exquisitely refined and beautiful, brimming with emotion, that manages to sounds as if it is from another time while at the same time remaining still incredibly relevant and touching. Marcilio Lopes is a mandolinist who plays on “Brejeiro” and “Odeon.” Being a fan of American mandolinists like Mike Marshall and Don Stiernberg, it is a real treat to hear such a different treatment and sound that Lopes achieves in his playing. His approach to rhythm is much lighter with more sustain, and the melodies are delicate and ringing.
All in all, Carioca by Carlos Barbosa-Lima is an exquisite recording. Highly recommended.
— Hermon Joyner