REVIEW: Fleurine and the Boys from Brazil at Birdland Theater, New York – with guests Brad Mehldau and Lee Konitz

Fleurine
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Fleurine and the Boys from Brazil 
(Birdland Theater, New York. 1 May 2019. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

The pace is fast, but unhurried: the guitar singing a Brazilian groove without breaking a sweat, and the double bass agreeing. There's an egg-shaker shuffle and a fluid vocalise, before a neat, intricate piano solo picks itself through the progression. This is the relaxed, effortlessly accomplished sound of Fleurine and the Boys from Brazil.

Specifically this is Sparkling Gemstone, a comfortable opening tune introduced as “a song about my daughter. Sorry, our daughter, Ruby”. These first words are at once an acknowledgement of the greater involvement of Brad Mehldau as more than just a special guest pianist, but also an opportunity to clarify the intended atmosphere of her gig: calm, friendly, celebratory, and performed with her husband, for her friends amongst the room, and her children at the back. More than a family reunion, however, the evening is something of a first birthday party for Fleurine's latest album release Brazilian Dream. After a hectic 2018 release, this pair of Birdland Theater gigs is the official US launch, and a second attempt to share this warm record which mixes Fleurine originals, popular song reworkings and a plethora of bilingual lyrics.

The title track arrives with a lively bass kick from Eduardo Belo and pressing percussion from Rogério Boccato, sounding every bit the high energy samba single release that it would be, and dancing around the stage with her dance partner from the audience, to prove it. Estrelas Cadentes features a beautifully posed opening duet with Ian Faquini on acoustic guitar, capturing a tender moment with Fleurine's soft Portuguese inflection. There are endearing R&B covers to enjoy too, with the Pointer Sisters and Al Green rendered sultry through Portuguese translation – although Seu Jorge's David Bowie interpretations may have made it impossible to listen to Brazilian covers of popular songs without Steve Zissou's adventures rearing into view.

For me, the real stand-out performances were the bitterly conflicted love-lorn complaints, delivered with brutal disdain and regret in both helpfully comprehensible English and incomprehensibly spellbinding Portuguese. These are best played in a rawer, more minimal setup – either with the guitar removed leaving more space for piano backing and rumbling solo, or with only the guitar present for vibrant collaborations on Contradição and Saudade. It's fascinating how transformative the language choice can be – the same song having a very different mood when sung in sensual Portuguese or translated into bright English. For a transatlantic Dutch New Yorker, I'd be interested to hear how Fleurine sings in her mother tongue, too.

Unfortunately one of the Boys from Brazil didn't make it over from a previous gig, with accordion player Vitor Goncalves remaining stuck on the European side of the Atlantic instead of joining the fun. Another circumstantial omission from the live set was the contribution of Chris Potter's saxophone and flute, which enriches the record so well, although an impromptu cameo from Fleurine's old friend the great Lee Konitz went some way to help: (“Did you bring your horn, Lee?”).

So, a year on Brazilian Dream is celebrated, and relaunched in a relaxed evening of atmospheric, subtle music amongst friends. Hopefully Fleurine's fifth record will get some of the recognition it deserves.

LINK: Brazilian Dream at Sunnyside Records

Fleurine and the Boys from Brazil will be at the NN North Sea Jazz Festival

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