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Music Reviews

Elis Regina: The Voice of Brazil


by Dan Caine


First-time listeners to Elis Regina are to be envied. Many may wish to start with one of the excellent compilations that are available. The recordings, in their manner of production, fall chronologically into two groups: those recorded up through 1971 feature primarily acoustic instrumentation, while those produced later (in partnership with Mariano, for the most part) turn on the juice. A Arte de Elis Regina (Verve/Polygram) is an excellent representation of early (1965-1973) material recorded by the label that documented most of the singer's career. Fascinação, also widely available, presents many highlights from the middle-to-late portion of her career. Among the many fine Brazilian compilations, one of the most comprehensive is Sem Limite, a particularly well-chosen two-disc collection. Most recently there has appeared a double set, 20 Anos de Saudade, which collects rarities: singles, contributions to festival anthologies, a live recording from Paris, even a duet with soccer star Pelé. There is no reason why such a collection should work well as a listening experience, but this one is simply wonderful. The Warner Bros. material (1979-1980), while also available in many compilations, is probably best enjoyed in its original album format (see below).

On the earliest recordings, done in her teens for the Continental and Columbia labels, while Elis acquits herself with aplomb and even bravado, the tunes are preponderantly directed at a young market, and many suffer beneath doggy arrangements. However, the remaining 30-odd Elis Regina recordings are nearly all in print and all a premier pleasure to hear. Following her aforesaid recording apprenticeship, she recorded prolifically for Polygram Brazil and its affiliated labels, which have reissued her albums many times. Unless otherwise indicated, these recommended albums all appear under that imprint.


Dois Na Bossa (1965-67), actually three separate recordings issued a year apart, features Elis at the first rush of her celebrity, along with singing partner Jair Rodrigues in stage performances before live audiences and backed by lively bossa-jazz groups. The first volume features Elis Regina's first huge hit, Edu Lobo's politically-charged "Arrastão"; all three discs feature extended medleys and a cross-section of the emergent MPB of the '60s.

Elis (1966) is a landmark collage of the incipient tropicalistas. Included are early masterpieces written by the likes of Gil ("Roda"), Lobo (the perennial "Pra Dizer Adeus"), Chico Buarque ("Tem Mais Samba"), Veloso ("Boa Palavra"), along with newcomer Nascimento's "Canção do Sal" and a nostalgic, choro rendition of the legendary Pixinguinha's "Carinhoso."

One of her jazziest sets, Como & Porque (1969) finds Elis ever the seeker after new modes of expression: on Lobo's wordless "Casa Forte" she accompanies her own overdubbed lead to stunning effect, while she scat-duets with flute and trumpet on Antonio Randolfo's "Giro." Here can be found probably the definitive performance of Baden Powell's "Canta de Ossanha." Also included are her first rendition of Ary Barroso's "Aquarela do Brasil," the most famous Brazilian anthem before the dawn of bossa nova, and, of course, the valedictory "Samba da Pergunta."

All right, so Polygram wasn't very creative when it came to titling her albums; Elis, the title of three straight releases, in 1972, 1973 and 1974, nevertheless collectively represents the first flowering of her musical partnership with husband Cesar Mariano. Together, they offer some of Elis Regina's most treasured recordings, many of them written by stalwarts Gil ("Oriente," "Meio de Campo") and Nascimento (the incredible "Cais" and still more incredible "Ponta de Areia"). They also introduce Elis to a songwriting team that would be among her favorites for the decade to come, Joao Bosco and Aldir Blanc ("Dois Pra Lá, Dois Pra Cá," and the anthemic "O Mestre-Sala dos Mares"). Mariano's musical settings, from intimate jazz trios to large orchestras, are ingenious without being intrusive and serve the star performer well.

A chance vacation given Elis by her record company resulted in a Los Angeles studio encounter with icon Antonio Carlos ("Tom") Jobim; Elis & Tom (1974) remains one of the finest recordings made by either artist. As befit the bossa nova style, Elis gave a relatively restrained performance, while Jobim allowed a modicum of electricity in many of the arrangements. An album of great sensitivity, this unique collaboration offers a wonderful range of styles and textures. Highlights include bold reworkings of "Retrato em Branco e Preto" and "Fotografia," the joyful "Chovendo na Roseira" (better known here as "Double Rainbow"), and the two singers' blithe interplay through "Àguas de Março," one of Jobim's last great hits.

Falso Brilhante (1976) features studio versions from Elis's great international touring extravaganza of the mid-'70s, alas much abbreviated. Video clips of her stage performances show her singing more than credibly in French and Italian and doing an impression of Carmen Miranda in that diva's famous habitude, none of which appears on this disc. What remains is an odd, though truly brilliant, assemblage of stark protest ballads (in Spanish), experimental pop, and flat-out rock'n'roll. The album's centerpiece, a Portuguese version of the omnipresent "Fascination," absolutely belongs to Elis.

Elis Regina's two studio albums for Warner Bros. are both essential. Essa Mulher (1979) contains "O Bêbado e A Equilibrista," still one of the songs most widely associated with her, and there is a remarkable duet with one of her earliest stylistic models, Cauby Peixoto, on the sultry "Bolero de Satã." Saudades Do Brasil (1980) a complete studio version on two discs of Elis's show of the same name, is perhaps the apotheosis of Cesar Mariano's production art. The sequence of the show, following a thrilling fanfare and "Terra de Ninguém," Elis's old television theme, suggests the story of Brazil, past, present and future. Highlights include no fewer than five new anthems by Milton Nascimento, a radical reinterpretation of "Aquarela do Brasil" with Native chants and African drums, and a remarkable performance of Jobim's "Sabiá" sung to Mariano's intimate piano accompaniment.

The "live" albums deserve special consideration for Elis's daring to explore, even beyond the perfection of her studio work. In the three volumes of No Fino Da Bossa (Velas, 1965-67; issued 1994) one is struck by the on-stage poise she displays, even at the age of 20, among such luminaries as Ciro Monteiro, Baden Powell, and Adoniran Barbosa. Elis ão Vivo (Velas, 1977; issued 1995) shows her, though seven months pregnant, in full command of an extraordinary repertoire amid star guest musicians Ivan Lins, Renato Teixeira, and others. Transversal do Tempo (1978) presents tasty excerpts from the tour that succeeded Falso Brillhante, including memorable versions of Barbosa's "Saudosa Maloca," a medley of two of Chico Buarque's compositions, and an amusing take on bossa nova, "Querelas do Brasil." Elis Vive (Warner, 1979; issued 1998) and Elis Live in Montreux (Warner, 1979; issued 1982) feature Elis with Mariano's small band; the latter also includes a set-closing duet with Hermeto Pascoal, which incorporates an hilarious send-up of "The Girl from Ipanema." Trem Azul (Som Livre/Gala, 1981; issued 1982) documents one of Elis's last public performances. Though the sound quality is not up to that of some of the others, this disc demonstrates best, perhaps, the mesmerizing effect Elis Regina in person could have upon an audience.

While not many Elis Regina CDs are currently available in most North American stores, it is fairly easy to buy them on the internet. Dusty Groove Records (www.dustygroove.com/brazilcd.htm ; toll-free 888-387-8947 from U.S.A.) is a great first-call source. If one is not in a very great hurry, most requests can be met also by www.CDbrazil.com.htm#catalogs , who offer video collections along with their CD catalogue. Robert St-Louis's excellent English translation of Regina Echeverria's biography of Elis Regina, Elis Furação, is located at www.geocities.com/TheTropics/Beach/7020/index.html ; a shorter biography, written by St-Louis himself, can be found at www.Caravanmusic.com/Articles/ReginaE_StLouis.htm. "Joe Sixpack" (www.slipcue.com/music/brazil/elis.html) provides an enjoyable commentary on Elis's (and many other Brazilian artists') recordings. Finally, a Brazilian site, Elis Live (www.planeta.terra.com.br/informatica/carrion/English.htm ), offers the best photo gallery of Elis on the Web.

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