A Good and Strong Start
A beautiful album , Ana Lee is one of those CDs that grabs your attention the first time you listen to it. Born in São Paulo, Ana Lee began her career in 1996 (age 27) singing at various night clubs in São Paulo. It was, therefore, only natural that when picking songs for her first album she would look for new talents in her hometown. She couldn’t have made a better decision.
Ana Lee is an excellent debut album. Co-produced with André Magalhães, this CD does not hide the strong musical roots in this soft-voiced and captivating interpreter. The work here is meticulously presented in the music, the gorgeous liner notes and arrangements created by Ana Lee and a group of fine musicians. Here you will find Bráulio Mendonça and Ozias Stafuzza (acoustic guitar), Célio Barros (bass), Itamar Vidal (clarone), Swami Jr. (7-string guitar), André Magalhães (piano and percussion) besides almost a dozen other names including special appearances by Oswaldinho (accordion) and Miguel Briamonte (piano).
My curiosity and instant passion for the album led me to a nice online chat I had with Ana Lee about this magnificent release.
EL: Ana, the most obvious question to start this conversation is about the concept for the album. In other words, what inspired you and gave you the motivation for the CD?
AL: What I wanted from the start was an organic and integrated repertoire that reflected what I was thinking about love, desire, life up to that moment. Musically, the concept I wanted was a mixture of rhythms and instrumentations, all balanced and focusing on the lyrics. For a few years I’d been working with a few songs with the great guitarists Bráulio Mendonça and Ozias Stafuzza, who have been playing in my band for several years (about 8 years with Bráulio). So, to make this album was a logical step. Consequently, everything happened naturally, but the real force came when I received an invitation from a recording studio owner (TC, where we recorded our demos) to release an album in her new label. I started my repertoire research after that invitation, but we changed directions and ended up doing this album we’re talking about here.
EL: Maybe it’s in this different direction you mention that lies one of the reasons this album is so appealing to our ears.
AL: Thanks for the compliment. I think you are correct that this new direction is connected to the elaboration of a project. It’s harder work that leads into a very elaborate production in a different studio years after that first invitation.
EL: Of the 12 tracks, only two clearly have well known authors to many people. How did you come to choose “O Que Será” and “Modinha”?
AL: “O Que Será – À Flor da Pele” is a song that for me (I also have a background in psychology and psychoanalysis) speaks about desire and the desire of the unconscious. Whatever has no measure, medicine, limit, shame, government, rest, exhaustion… I used to sing it very spontaneously during rehearsals during my free time, with a lot of emotion. Up to this day, I still prefer not to rehearse this song. It gives me goose bumps every time I sing it in shows. It has a magistral force. I feel each and every word I sing in it. What is it that gives me… the desire to blossom, burst and is the cause of (almost) everything.
EL: By the way, your interpretation of this Buarquian classic is unparalleled. The first verse sung a cappella is remarkable. When Célio Barros’s bass comes in for the second verse, the listener is already a captive of this beautiful and minimalist arrangement. Another interesting point in your rendition is the minute note variations you introduce here and there. You give this song a personal touch all yours and make it a rare beauty.
AL: The recording of “O Que Será – À Flor da Pele” done by Chico [Buarque] and Milton [Nascimento] is so marked in everyone’s mind that everyone knows the rhythmic emphasis, Milton’s beautiful vocals. For me to make it worth recording I had to break that resemblance a little. The first verse sung only with Célio Barros’s acoustic bass punctuates and brings together the words in the poem, the lyrics. As to “Modinha,” I have not met anyone who actually knew it. I never heard another recording of it. I only had the music sheet. The authors, Manuel Bandeira and Jayme Ovalle, are very well known, but the song “Modinha, Opus Nº 5” to this day I have not heard any other recording.
EL: Indeed it is a most beautiful song and with a very nostalgic feeling that reminds me of Villa Lobos music.
AL: Indeed there’s that resemblance. It speaks of a troubadour love that is devotional and uncommon in our days. That is a beautiful kind of love even though it might be idealized. I keep searching for just how much of what we call love is true and idealized. I adore “Modinha.”
EL: And once again you use a very simple arrangement where your voice and instrumentation do not obstruct the beauty of those verses. Marisa Silveira’s cello and Bráulio Mendonça’s acoustic guitar make up the perfect trio with your voice.
AL: Bráulio and I have this wonderful musical chemistrey! He makes the arrangements, in general, based on my way of singing. Marisa’s cello complemented it. On the other hand, to contrast with the idea of romantic love, I heard a song in Lô Borges’s latest album that present another facet of love that also interests me: “O amor é vão / para todo mundo / para nós / então por que não vem?” (Love is empty for everyone, for us. Then why doesn’t it come?) [That is] The contrast of that troubadour idealization in which the loved one confuses the object of desire, such as the other half, the lid to cover that emptiness. I find it interesting that vision in Arnaldo Antunes’s lyrics. It originates from a supposition that love is an invention (an invention of language?) and is empty. Accepting that vision, love recreates the relationship. In the end, those are possible escapes for desire. To believe or not to believe. We identify with or not… with what we call love.
EL: What you mentioned above comes directly into place with the love for language so abundant in our music. The CD is a great example to showcase new talents with strong emphasis in melody and lyrics. There are song by Chico César and José Miguel Wisnik — whom I believe to be one of our best contemporary poets — but half of the album brings Walter Garcia’s signature (I’ve reviewed his book Bim Bom here). Please talk about that choice.
AL: I based my decision on the songs. I can also tell you I’ve admired Wisnik for a long time. I saw the release show of his CD São Paulo-Rio and that same week I was rehearsing with Bráulio some of the songs from that CD. I picked “Virtual” (which asks about the truth or invention of love) from that CD and “Se Meu Mundo Cair” (which presents a brave exit for the tragedy of “love or another”: Se meu mundo cair, eu que aprenda a levitar (If my world falls apart, I better learn how to levitate). That was part of the searched for spirit. Responsibility. It didn’t want laments or heartaches at that moment. Even though there’s a certain melancholy where there’s a victim and a vilain, let’s say it, there is and there will always be some of that when we talk about the love discourse.
Walter Garcia, whose book you reviewed previously, is a songwriter I wanted to re-introduce to people singing his songs. I believe I added some density, emotion and rationality to his work. Walter has always been very talented. I’ve known him for 20 years and there is something in our friendship that means a lot, that we experimented (as an aperitif) in one of his songs in the album (“Meu Amor por Você,” which I asked him to write for me): he is capable of translating very well what I want to say in his lyrics.
EL: And he is a master songwriter! In the very first track, “Meu Amor por Você,” he says :
|Esse amor que inventei de sentir, sem fingir
Mata a máscara da dor
|This love I invented I feel, truthfully
Kills the mask of pain
That sounds like Fernando Pessoa!
AL: That’s it! I had asked him to write lyrics about a love that continued to exist in spite of what the object of that love could do. It was the kind of love that could survive death and remain love. A song of faith in love.
|Meu amor por você, eu perdi e encontrei.
Meu amor por você eu vivo sem querer
|My love for you, I lost and found it.
My love for you, I live without wanting to.
That’s only for a few, you know. There are people who must simply vanish from our lives because they cause us pain and uncontrollable suffering because of the extreme possessiveness and other reasons. That is not love for me. I’m not talking about benevolent concessions or much less masochism. I’m talking about a kind of love that allows the other person to leave and overcomes that loss without punishment due to the inherent pain in that situation. It allows the other the possibility of choice, the belief in true love. This communication between Walter and me took place before we began recording, but the day after our chat, the song was ready!
Chico César is a great example of the new batch of better known composers along with Lenine (whom I adore) and Zeca Baleiro, for example. With Chico it was a bit different. I asked him for a song via André Magalhães. He heard part of the material I had already recorded and presented me with “Aplauso,” a brand new song that looks just like me! I went over to get the tape and started listening to it in the car. I was very pleased and surprised to find myself so well portraited in Tata Fernandes’s lyrics. The idea was complete. The song fit like a glove. I’m very grateful for such gift.
EL: And what a beautiful accordion solo Oswaldinho creates along with André Magalhães’s percussion and Swami Jr.’s 7-string guitar.
Besides your captivating voice and renditions with lots of soul, the instrumentation in this album gets everyone’s attention. It’s never excessive. In particular, the use of clarone, cello and bassoon in some tracks gives the whole album a classic mood without being pedantic. Here in the CD, it’s just right. Besides that, the instruments are in perfect harmony with your voice and even the beautiful art work by Klimt, Van Gogh, Botticelli and Matisse in the liner notes. Did you have those ideas for the arrangements or was everything spontaneous in the studio?
AL: You see, the album was produced by the adorable and competent André Magalhães. The base instrumentation in most songs is the responsibility of guitarists Bráulio Mendonça and Ozias Stafuzza and André’s own percussion . Of course we also had the wonderful collaboration of many musicians with varied styles and always keeping in focus the idea to highlight the word. This album is full of subtleties.
EL: And they are discovered every time you listen to it. I simply love works that innovate in that very manner
AL: I especially adore the instruments you mentioned: [Luís Antônio] Ramoska’s bassoon, Itamar Vidal’s clarone, Célio Barros’s acoustic bass and Marisa [Silveira]’s cello. Those are all deep instruments. They add more density to the instrumentation and are compatible with the feelings in the songs presented here.
AL: It’s an album without an electric bass in all tracks! The bass sounds are not conventional. I feel that the whole album mood is also reflected in the liner notes. Botticelli’s Birth of Venus I obtained when I was in Rome, and I was already thinking about the album. From there one, I chose other art work that would be harmonious with the album. Klimt’s Kiss was suggested by our design artist. I also wanted to have used that painting with St. Theresa of Davila with the angel’s arrows, but it wouldn’t go well with the liner notes aesthetically. Maybe I can use it in my next work.
EL: And this couldn’t be better news for your listeners: your next work.
If you can’t find Ana Lee’s album at your favorite CD outlet, you can contact her directly at this address.
ALCD 2001 (2002)
- Meu Amor por Você (Walter Garcia)
- Virtual (José Miguel Wisnik – Alice Ruiz)
- O Que Será (À Flor da Pele) (Chico Buarque de Hollanda)
- Jongo Tradição II (Walter Garcia)
- Se Meu Mundo Cair (José Miguel Wisnik)
- Concerto em Paris (Alessandro Ayudarte – Sérgio Varkala)
- ‘Tô Ligada, ‘Tô Legal (Walter Garcia)
- Meu Desejo (Walter Garcia)
- Deserto Para Erik Satie (Lincoln Antonio – Walter Garcia)
- O Todo Abismo (Lincoln Antonio – Walter Garcia)
- Modinha (Jayme Ovalle – Manuel Bandeira)
- Aplauso (Chico César – Tata Fernandes)