Brasilian Serenata: One Track Mind Review

album cover Brasilian Serenata

Dori Caymmi’s second US release treats us to an aural tapestry, rich with musical emotion, where his skills as an arranger rise to meet his talents as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist. 

Brasilian Serenata is sheer joy and passion from a Brazilian master!

This article was first published in The Brazilian Music Review.

Those who know Dori Caymmi’s music usually point to his years as the music director for Sergio Mendes as a pivotal moment: That’s where he honed his skills at creating a sound, a style – as opposed to his talents as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist.

It’s not difficult to understand the difference, as subtle as it may first seem: Antonio Carlos Jobim could compose, arrange and orchestrate his own music – he just preferred to leave the arrangements of his songs to others.

Conversely, Dori preferred to keep everything closer to home. To put it another way, think of songwriting as something that exists in one dimension. An arranger thinks in multiple dimensions.

1991’s Brasilian Serenata is Dori’s second US release and perhaps his best recording from beginning to end. It’s where Caymmi’s introspective and intimate style found maturity, where his knack at creating beautiful melodies plumed greater depth, where his sense of musical framing began to mirror his craft as a storyteller.

This album – the first for Quincy Jones’s Qwest Records – was also the first in a run of several memorable recordings which mark the pinnacle of his career.

It begins with Joel Nakamura’s cover art. The painting perfectly captures the essence of Dori’s music. It shows a guitar riding along with a wave of sound, crossing nature’s own river to a place of sun-drenched calm. A visual metaphor for a Brazilian Serenata.

Mostly, it’s the songs: Each one a dedication to its particular inspiration. The opening strains of ‘Amazon River’ are also reprised to close this set, giving us some insight into the expansive nature of the music held between these bookends.

This is musical mastery, pure and simple: ‘Trés Curumins’ – sung in Portuguese – continues the rainforest theme (as do the light Samba rhythms of ‘Toucan’s Dance’) before turning towards the Caymmi homeland, the coastal state of Bahia and Salvador, its capitol city. Many consider this to be the birthplace of Brazilian song; it’s also where Dori’s father, Dorival, grew to become a legendary songwriter decades earlier. Lessons learned…

Dori filters this sense of tradition through the prism of American jazz as part of his trademark style, where the emotion of Brazilian saudade – an overwhelming sense of longing and fond remembrance – is an elemental part of his music.

You’ll hear it in a brace of songs including ‘To My Father’, ‘Flower Of Bahia’ (in English), ‘Mercador De Siri’ and of course, his dad’s own ‘Você Ja Foi A Bahia?’ – a simple question that serves as an open invitation: ‘Have you been to Bahia?’

Stories and emotion, translated through his skills as a masterful musician – that’s what the word ‘Serenata’ means here. And with Dori’s music, it’s easy to say yes.

Brasilian Serenata by Dori Caymmi

01.   Amazon River
02.   Trés Curumins
03.   The Colors Of Joy
04.   Mercador De Siri
05.   Ninho De Vespa
06.   Toucan’s Dance

07.   Flower Of Bahia
08.   Você Ja Foi A Bahia?
09.   To My Father / Pescaria
10.   História Antiga
11.   The Desert/The Wraith

12.   Amazon River (Reprise)

Personnel: Dori Caymmai (guitar, vocals), Tom Scott (saxophone, flute), Freddie Ravel, Don Grusin (keyboards), Larry Corbett, Dan Smith, Jerry Watts, Abraham Laboriel, James Johnson (bass), Claudio Slon, Michael Shapiro (drums), Paulinho Da Costa (percussion), Inner Voices (background vocals).

Strings: Ray Pizzi (bassoon), Bruce Dukov, Ralph Morrison, Clayton Halsop, Berj Garabedian, Armen Garabedian, Joel Derouin, Meg Zivahl-Fox, Dimitrie Leivici, Gina Kronstadt, Ezra Kliger, Don Palmer, Peter Kent (violin), Robert Becker, David Campbell, Herschel Wise, Jimbo Ross (viola), Ernie Ehrhardt, Susie Katayama, Arni Egilsson, David Stone (acoustic bass).

Produced and arranged by Dori Caymmi. Recorded at Sunset Sound, Capitol Recording Studios and Groove Masters, Los Angels, CA. 1991.

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And our ‘One Track’ from Brasilian Serenata? ‘Mercador De Siri’.