Friday, March 2, 2018

Luis Filipe Fortunato's Caminhos


Bartolomeo Nasta, my Italian brother from another mother who runs Unison Research and Opera Loudspeakers with his family, was talking to me about some of the trends in European music at a recent trade show. I mentioned that I had just reviewed Luis Filipe Fortunato's Live and Pure for Positive Feedback Online, and I asked him if he was familiar with this traditional Portuguese genre, oh what is it's all love songs and it's based upon old songs that the sailors used to sing when they had to leave loved ones behind, and...uh, I think it's called FAY-doh. Bart stared at me blankly for a moment and then a light appeared behind his eyes. "FAH-do!" he replied. I could tell from the look on his face that he knew fado, he enjoyed fado and he had a tremendous amount of respect for it.

While reviewing Live and Pure, I gained a tremendous amount of respect for fado as well. On the surface it might remind you of a variety of musical genres from Spain, Mexico and Latin America--the instrumentation is heavy on strings from guitars, acoustic basses and the like. The vocals are delivered with enormous power and emotion from singers who excel in all the classic ways. Finally, most of the songs are indeed about love, although the love themes in fado are usually separated by great expanses of ocean.

Fado, ultimately, is different because it is so pure in its execution. As I mentioned in my review of Live and Pure, "It must be simple, with minimal accompaniment, and sung with conviction." Another important component of fado is audience participation, that the crowd is already familiar with these classic love songs and they often sing along when they aren't applauding knowingly. Live and Pure captured this magic perfectly, but Caminhos has a distinct disadvantage here--it was recorded in the studio. Does it matter? I don't think it does.

Enter Freddy Rodrigues of Dogma Musicae, the Portuguese record label that puts out these incredible releases from fadista Luis Fortunato. Freddy is as much of a purist as fado itself--he uses no compression, equalization or any other types of "destructive" types of processing in the studio. That's why his Dogma releases are so clear and clean and natural. This lack of compression is daring since Fortunato is such a powerful, dynamic singer, and he puts his heart and soul into every single note. That means the listener is hearing the same intense and emotional delivery that would be experienced at a small fado restaurant in Lisbon. It's not a relentless, in-your-face kind of delivery, but it will give you plenty of goosebumps each time Fortunato's flawless vibrato launches mournfully into the night air.

Fortunato's voice is amazing, but I'm also intrigued with his musical accompaniment which includes Ricardo Silva on Portuguese guitar, Fernando Nani on acoustic bass and Bernardo Saldanha on viola de fado. Each one of these instruments has an exotic timbre, a product of both construction and playing style, and my first reaction was "I don't know these instruments--and they are so beautiful! What are they?" Well, the Portuguese guitar is actually mandolin-shaped, which is why I thought it was a mandolin at first. The viola de fado is not a viola, but a classical guitar that uses steel strings and has a slightly different rosette than Spanish guitars. In fado, bass is often supplied by a four-string bass guitar, but I'll have to check with Freddy to see if this is what Nani is using. The lower registers seem too deep to come from something that is held in the lap.

(Edit: Freddy has conformed that it is indeed a four-string bass guitar, albeit one that was custom-made for Nani. You can see it in the video here. )

The combination of Fortunato's voice and the beautiful sound from these uncommon musical instruments provides a sound that is, well, flawless. Live and Pure amazed me with its accurate rendering of the inside of a fado restaurant--it made me feel like I was there. Caminhos is more focused on the performance, the essence of these incredibly talented musicians doing what they love, and doing what they do better than anyone else in the world.

FAH-doh. Remember the name. If you're an audiophile with a killer system, Caminhos will shine and steal your heart. Even on a less than stellar playback system, this album should still make you swoon. Trabalho bonito, Freddy!

You can purchase the hi-rez digital download of Caminhos right here.

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