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Vinicius Cantuaria: Horse and Fish

While one might think of vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Vinicius Cantuaria as a conventional bossa nova crooner, he has long had an unpredictable and forward-thinking edge (as Bill Frisell must have recognized when he hired Cantuaria for his Intercontinentals band). It is this edge that comes across on his fifth album, Horse and Fish, which succeeds because it captures the magic of Cantuaria’s live show. Five of these songs, in fact, appeared on last year’s Live: Skirball Cultural Center, 8/7/03 (Kufala). Horse and Fish also includes a video clip of the band performing “Rio” at Tonic in New York in March 2003.

Beginning with Gilberto Gil’s “Procissao,” Cantuaria’s group skates along on an upbeat groove, effortlessly meshing world-pop with a modal jazz sensibility. Trumpeter Michael Leonhart, of Steely Dan fame, seizes the spotlight effectively, and does so again on Cantuaria’s compelling tribute to Marc Ribot, “Cubanos Postizos.” Leonhart also doubles on percussion, joining Nanny Assis, Mauro Refosco and drummer Paulo Braga in a layered rhythmic procession that never seems overdone. Paul Socolow’s forceful but unobtrusive bass and Cantuaria’s overdubbed acoustic and electric guitars complete the spacious sonic panorama.

Even as Cantuaria aims toward modernism, he interprets canonical Brazilian themes like “O Barquinho” and Jobim’s “Ligia,” his voice taking on a strikingly intimate, vulnerable quality on the latter. The minimal aesthetic of “Perritos”-with just percussion and nylon-string guitar surrounding the Portuguese lyric-yields a moment unlike any other on the disc. The solid, laid-back beat and broken English of “Look the Sky” are mesmerizing. The playful, Afro-poppy “O Nome Dela,” co-written by Cantuaria and Arto Lindsay, provides an energetic climax before Cantuaria signs off with another Jobim song, “Este Seu Olhar.”

Originally Published