Saudade, Colour of Love isn’t so much a follow-up to Netherlands-based vocalist Maria Mendes’ 2019 album Close to Me, which won the Dutch equivalent of a jazz vocal Grammy Award. Rather, it’s a captivating elaboration featuring much the same material and the same cast of characters.
Like Close to Me, her third album, Saudade is a sumptuous collaboration with pianist John Beasley conducting the Metropole Orkest, a mainstay of the Dutch music scene since the end of World War II. But whereas the former release was a studio project, the new album is a concert recording that offers Mendes and some orchestra members a little more leeway to stretch out on a fado-centric program. Trained as an opera singer, the Portuguese-born Mendes veered off the conservatory path with her discovery of jazz, attaining real authority in the tradition after years of study. Working with Beasley, who produced and orchestrated the Saudade arrangements they wrote together (part of a most impressive run for Beasley, with Saudade arriving the same year as his spectacular work on Chucho Valdés’ late-career masterwork La Creación), Mendes takes another step into a largely uncharted realm where jazz inflects the ritualistic laments of fado, a blues-like song form that evolved on Lisbon’s hard-scrabble waterfront.
Kicking off with “Com Que Voz,” a song that fado legend Amália Rodrigues recorded at the peak of her powers in 1969, Saudade features four of the same pieces as Close to Me, including “Foi Deus,” which has a sparkling Beasley solo, and Hermeto Pascoal’s episodic “Hermeto’s Fado for Maria.” They close the album on an upbeat note with “Meu Pobre Capitão,” a piece they cowrote and set to a loping Brazilian groove that belies the desultory title.