Sunday, October 3, 2010

Deja Vu In Rio de Janeiro

Weird how things work sometimes. I swear this was not intentional, but I am back in Rio exactly one year to the day after my last visit. Even more weird: I am experiencing some of the exact same things, more or less, that I experienced last year on this trip. Or that trip. THIS is this trip. But it is already seeming like THAT trip. What a trip!  More on this soon.  (For a peek at why I am in Brazil, and what it means to me, see my first post from THAT other trip:  http://sambamaster.blogspot.com/2009/10/portland-to-rio.html )

I left Portland on Thursday morning, and, until I reached Miami, everything went surprisingly well. All my flights were on time, even a few minutes early. Even the Portland mass transit trip to the airport was on time for a change. But when I reached Miami and saw that my 11:30pm flight to Rio would leave at 12:30am, I was a bit disheartened. But an hour late isn't terrible, so I went to the john, did my thing, then rechecked the airport monitor to see if, perhaps, my flight had been rescheduled to be a bit earlier than midnight and a half.

Fuck. No!  I can't believe this.

The monitor thumbed its nose at me:  2 AM!!!!!!

Two in the morning!  The flight was now going to be two and a half hours late. Fuck! again.

So I decided to get some beer to calm my shattering nerves, and to find something decent to eat...it was almost 11pm.

(At this point in writing this entry, my internet connection went down. Actually, I had already written several more paragraphs...and now, I can't remember what they said, and you are already bored reading this so far...so.... I'm picking this up the next day to finish it and post it.)

Let's say I found a lousy burger....and two Sam Adams Lagers. And, then????!!!! What? Again? Now the flight was scheduled to leave at 2:30. Hey what's another 30 minutes at 3am, when you are already nearly three hours late?  At least they didn't cancel the flight!

We actually left the ground at 3:30AM!!!  An hour sitting in the plane after pushing back from the gate. Waiting for clearance to leave an absolutely dead airport. What was that about?

Escaped the Rio airport, which is named after Antonio Carlos Jobim, one of the "founders" of bossa nova, and composer of many of your favorite elevator tunes. My pal Celso, aka Celsinho do Pandeiro, had been waiting there since 10:30...I'd tried to warn him with several emails from the Miami airport, but he didn't really pay attention to them.

Since it was so late, we skipped my traditional "arrival in Rio" lunch at Cafe Lamas because Celso (and I) were due at the broadcast studios of Rio's Radio Nacional for a live broadcast of which, he is the assistant producer.

The weekly live broadcast features the BEST choro group on the planet,
Conjunto Época de Ouro, and Celso's pop and brother are in the group. For lovers of virtuoso guitar and other string instrument playing, these guys should be on your very short list. 
Here is a quote from my posting in early October of last year in this blog: 
Oh, the group: the very hallowed Conjunto Epoca de Ouro, the absolute best choro group
Jacob do Bandolim
in Brazil, i.e., the universe. They are celebrating 45 years of performing, even though only one original member is still playing. The group was formed by the legendary Jacob do Bandolim, Brazil's greatest-ever mandolin player whose career covered the 1940s through the late '60s. His field, called choro, is a fantastic, complex music which began sort of parallel to ragtime in the USA and some of the early piano recording even sound a bit like ragtime if you squint your ears while listening. Though it nearly disappeared after Jacob's death, his group, Epoca de Ouro, reformed somewhere around 1973 or so and, thanks to some exposure via some concerts with samba great Paulinho da Viola (whose dad, Cesar Faria was a founding member of EDO, as well as guitarist with Paulinho...the family ties here are gonna get confusing because two other founding members were the brothers of the last surviving member, Jorginho do Pandeiro who joined later, and Jorginho's son Jorge Filho is also a member of the group...Celso is also Jorginho's son....it gets even more complex, but we'll save that for another day...)
(For that entire post, see here! )


Epoca de Ouro Rehearsal
Anyway, we arrived in time, about 3pm, to witness a last minute rehearsal and sound check. I just love hearing these guys, and I must tell you that being able to know these folks, and to be able to hang out with them as I do makes me one of the luckiest humans alive. This is no exaggeration. The guys discussed adding some tunes to the show, argued about who gets to suggest songs for their repertoire, and then, MAGIC!  They took the stage in front of the small studio audience, and began to play. For two hours they displayed their art as listeners called in comments and requests. A live announcer stitched all this together, engaging each of the musicians between songs in banter about the music and their connections to it. Fascinating stuff. 
Celso, Jorge Filho and Jorginho do Pandeiro


We don't have anything like this on radio in the USA these days, a weekly show with the same group playing through an endless list of fantastic tunes. I was impressed by the number of calls they received, and the largely well-informed nature of the calls. They even received one from a former member of the group, the mandolin player who first took over Jacob do Bandolim's place in the band, Deo Rian. Nice. Anyway, this program is a throwback to the way radio used to be: all totally live, no recordings. And this very studio at Radio Nacional is where some of Brasil's greatest musicians used to entertain and promote their careers, people like Pixinguinha, Carmen Miranda, Lupicinio Rodrigues, Jacob do Bandolim, Luiz Gonzaga and just about anyone worth hearing from the mid-1930s through the 1950s. Amazing history, and the walls here could really tell some interesting stories, and play some of the best music ever made anywhere in the world. Damn! I am so lucky!


Ronaldo do Bandolim (Mandolin)
Toni Sete Cordas (Seven String Guitar Toni)

Antonio Rocha

I video taped (tape? what's that?  actually, video chipped in this case...on a tiny chip the size of a quarter) about an hour's worth of the two hour show. I will eventually edit these selections into a cohesive short film (film?), but for now, how about one song? This is Cochichando (Whispering, or, Buzzing), a classic choro composed by the greatest choro master of all time, Pixinguinha. By the way, this was a request phoned in by a listener, so they were not really prepared to play it, so watch how masterfully they handle this great piece of music! WATCH THIS THING!


video


Nice, huh? Did  you watch the video???

So we packed up the gear and headed to a place that used to be a favorite in Rio, the historic Cafe Lamas which first opened for business in 1874 or thereabouts. I've been a fan since my first visit in 1980 when a bohemian journalist friend, Aristélio Andrade introduced me to it. Lamas was a hangout of artists, bohemians and journalists...like Aristélio for decades and I just loved the ambience...so what does that make me???


Unfortunately, Lamas hasn't maintained the quality of their food, while the prices have absolutely skyrocketed. Celso, Jorge Filho, Jorginho do Pandeiro and I all were shocked by the prices. But we stayed, had some great conversation, some okay food, and decided never to return....Lamas served me well for thirty years, but I will now have to find another temple to those golden years of bohemian life in Rio de Janeiro. Any suggestions?

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