Since breaking out internationally in the mid-90s, Cesaria Evora has single-handedly ensured that the Cape Verde Islands would evoke something more for music fans than that Horace Silver tune. Her mastery of her homeland’s national song form, the morna–a beautifully melancholic type of ballad that’s thought to be a mixture of the Portuguese fado, the Brazilian modinho, and native rhythms from Angola–has always been the core of her art. Despite years of whiskey drinking and chain-smoking, Evora’s voice remains a model of emotional clarity. In sorrowful, unhurried phrases she expresses that distinctly Lusophone quality of saudade–an intense sense of longing–her voice rising in quivering arcs alongside piano arpeggios and fluid patterns played on the ukulele-like cavaquinho and the Portuguese tenor guitar known as the viola. Some of her more recent albums have attempted to reach wider audiences by serving up Westernized versions of the Cape Verdean style. This approach worked on Cafe Atlantico (RCA Victor, 1999), where the string arrangements of Brazil’s Jacques Morelenbaum emphasized the music’s prettiness, but on Sao Vicente (Windham Hill, 2001) gloppy orchestral arrangements and half-baked collaborations with Bonnie Raitt, Cuban charanga legends Orquesta Aragon, and Spanish pop artist Pedro Guerra seemed more like marketing choices than creative ones. Thankfully, Evora’s new album, Voz D’Amor (Bluebird), is a return to basics, a wonderful mixture of traditional and contemporary Cape Verdean songs. The lyrics describe the islands and the women who live there–from the tormented mixed-race girl of “Isolada” to the fast woman in “Velocidade” to the superficial ladies of “Saia travada.” Jaunty clarinet and clip-clopping percussion set off her vocals on “Velocidade” and a sensual violin dances around her on “Monte Cara,” but these instrumental flourishes are as flashy as things get. Instead the recording wisely puts its faith in the lean power of the diva’s singular voice. Wednesday, November 5, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.