Always a devotee of jazz and world music, Susan Palma-Nidel began to explore non-classical forms professionally following a 1997 tour to South America with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, with whom she has been an esteemed flutist since 1980. There she met renowned Argentine pianist/composer Pablo Ziegler, which soon resulted in a great friendship and musical collaborations.
When she first conceived of Elegante, Susan focused on an open approach to the music, with emphasis on the traditional elements in the selected compositions, casting aside many of the formalities associated with classical music recordings. The project began in earnest when Pablo arranged his composition Elegante Canyenguito (originally for piano, guitar and bandoneon) for Flute and String Quartet in early 2009. A live performance with the Borromeo String Quartet later that year inspired him to expand the piece to a three movement Suite Canyengue for Susan, the centerpiece for her debut solo recording—and its world premiere.
Elegante is a variegated, polychromatic depiction of Susan’s aural vision of South American music, past and present. Treasures from three of the continent’s historic composers, Heitor Villa-Lobos (Brazil) and Agustin Barrios (Paraguay), are featured and synthesized with contemporary works by Pablo Ziegler,
Paquito d’Rivera and Quique Sinesi, bookended by two pieces composed, sung and recited by the iconic Ivan Lins.
As the project evolved, Susan’s commitment to artistry was unflagging. Her desire was to include favorite musicians with whom she had collaborated in the past, as well as artists with whom she had always hoped to record. Once her friend and colleague Branford Marsalis graciously agreed to participate, and Ziegler’s suite was in place, the repertoire naturally dictated the desired players, and everyone enthusiastically accepted the invitation to the dance.
Guarde Nos Olhos & Renata Maria
The serene intensity on Ivan Lins’s (b. 1945, Brazil) Guarde Nos Olhos (1977) is palpable from the first note. The alto flute floats over the ensemble introducing the theme and leads into Ivan’s powerfully emotional vocal. The ensemble gives way to Branford’s soaring soprano solo, after which the group subtly and collectively revisits the head of the tune, improvising lines as Ivan returns.
The lyrics to Guarde, written decades ago, are an allegorical protest to the
oppressive regime in power in Brazil in the late 1970s which drove many of Lins’s colleagues out of the country. Arranged here by Robert Sadin and Marcelo Martins, this new version of Guarde brings Lins’s classic to new heights.
Alcantara is an old, industrial warehouse neighborhood near the Tejo River, under the Ponte 25 de Abril. Huge cranes from the docks accentuate the waterfront ambience of the skyline. Gentrification began several years before our visit in September 2014, and artist studios, hip restaurants and open workspaces seemed to pop up before our eyes as we walked to our destination, Ler Devagar, the epicenter of the new Alcantara. Ler Devagar (“read slowly”) is essentially a huge bookshop, but also a multi-media venue that includes a large music section packed with Vinyl and CDs, a recording studio, cafe and bar. We gobbled up armfuls of recordings from
numerous Portuguese artists, all virtually unknown in the US, as Susan and I began to think about a new World Music project focusing on Portugal.
Upon our return to New York, we fell more deeply in love with the music, especially the iconic Carlos do Carmo. Carlos is and has been the most revered and popular singer in Portugal over the past 45 years, part of a family of venerable musicians and Fado club owners whose legacy dates back several generations. Inexplicably he remains virtually unknown outside Iberia and Lusofonia.
Carlos do carmo in new york
A touch of magic and a series of synchronistic events soon directed our project to Lisboa.
In November 2014, I received a call from Carlos do Carmo, seemingly “out of the blue”. I did not know it at the time, but our friend Ivan Lins had suggested that Carlos contact me while Carlos was in New York after receiving the Lifetime Latin Grammy Award a few days earlier in Las Vegas. The erudite, elegant Carlos began our meeting by declaring “first we must discuss the history of Portugal”, and a long colloquy began. Fortunately I knew a bit about Gama’s voyages to India, Fernão Magalhaes (Magellan) Cabral, King Manuel, Vicente Sodré, Salazar and the Carnation Revolution and the conversation was exhilarating. After a few hours, it was clear the impromptu encounter was a prelude to a new relationship and that a musical collaboration would follow.
Shortly thereafter, Ivan asked Susan to come to Lisboa to record a duet with him and Carlos. Carlos and Ivan have been great friends for more than 40 years and adore each other. They have performed together numerous times in Portugal, Africa and Brasil, but inexplicably had never recorded together. Until Lisboa Íntima, that is. Susan immediately accepted the offer and we embarked on the creation of what we believe is a
groundbreaking recording of Portuguese Music with only Portuguese musicians in accompaniment, recorded in Lisboa, including of course the historic duet.
Our long time passion for and knowledge of Portuguese music was the basis of selecting the repertoire, the choices tediously screened by Susan, and soon the concept began to take shape. As a result of our collective listening, one thing we agreed upon quickly was that in addition to Carlos and Ivan two artists were essential: Né Ladeiras and Júlio Pereira.
Júlio is an historic figure in modern Portuguese music, a prominent Lisboa artist at the peak of his powers today, extremely active as a performer and devoted curator of the Cavaquinho Museu. He is arguably the master of the cavaquinho on the planet. His career began prior to the Carnation Revolution of 1974 when he regularly played with Zeca Afonso and many Portuguese Roots groups. His World Music chops are second to none and his numerous recordings are all special. Júlio’s wonderful Ler Devagar is the first track on Lisboa Íntima.
SUSAN E NÉ
We have long been great admirers of Né Ladeiras, a unique artist who is a hidden musical treasure from the far North of Portugal, a veritable Billy Holiday, Nina Simone, Mercedes Sosa, and Elis Regina cum Joan Baez, an artist of unmatched vocal gifts, integrity and musical acumen. We were aware that Né had not recorded in a long time and that she was residing in semi-obscurity in the north near Porto. It was hoped she could be enticed to join the project and we reached out.
Following a series of email communications in the spring of 2015 including an in depth description of the concept of the project, Né eagerly accepted the invitation.
Over the course of the next few months, Susan and Né forged an extraordinary
personal bond and continue to communicate with each other regularly. Né’s incomparable spirit and voice are a highlight of Lisboa Intima.
In September 2016 Susan visited Né in Coimbra with videographer/engineer Amandio Bastos, for fun, but also to capture the relationship on video including conversations and informal interviews with Susan and Né interacting as loving sisters. The extemporaneous conversations about music, art, philosophy, politics, women, cats, freedom and metaphysics could be expanded into a fascinating short documentary. There will soon be a link to this video on Susan’s Website titled “Susan e Né em Coimbra Setembro 2016”.