One of Year’s Best
I first had the pleasure of discovering Carlos Zens when I was in Rio de Janeiro this past May. I attended one of the Projeto Pixinguinha shows at the Sala Funarte Sidney Miller. Projeto Pixinguinha, if you don’t know, is a caravan of concerts traveling all over Brazil. The various caravans generally feature three performers, each playing about 20-25 minutes of music. The shows are generally free and, consequently, draw large crowds everywhere they go. Each trio of performers includes a leading name and two others not very well known, sometimes touring and performing outside of their hometown for the first time. This particular Projeto Pixinguinha concert I attended featured Cecilia Leite (from Maranhão), Carlos Zens (from Rio Grande do Norte) and samba master Moacyr Luz.
Carlos Zens (born Carlos Alberto de Freitas in 1965) comes from Natal, the northeastern capital of the state of Rio Grande do Norte. Prior to Fuxico de Feira, he also released two independent albums: Potyguara (1996) and Carlos Zens o Tocador de Flautas (2001). Singer, composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist, Zens has made the flute his instrument of choice. Think of Zens as a well-balanced mixture of Joaquim Callado, Pixinguinha, Altamiro Carrilho and several other Brazilian masters of the flute. Zens studied with Wascily Simões and Sando (former member of Quinteto Violado) and received his music degree from the Institute of Arts of the State University of São Paulo (UNESP). He is now a member of the Symphonic Orchestra of Natal and also teaches flute at Solar Bela Vista.
Zens’s performance on stage was as captivating as the album Fuxico de Feira. In fact, at the end of the show, all copies of the album were sold out. During the show, Zens’s charisma enchanted the audience and maintained us all captive of his music and endearing ways. Zens is a man who wins an audience with his simple manners. That is also noted in his original music. His music is inspired by the things in his life, his neighborhood, his hometown. In the album, Zens also features three special guests: Dominguinhos, Mingo Araújo and Lia de Itamaracá.
In Fuxico de Feira we can experience a lot of Zens’s life through music. The opening waltz, “Royal Cinema,” is played simply and beautifully with Zens on flute and Ricardo Menezes on acoustic guitar. That is followed with “Escadaria,” which features a delectable flute solo throughout the entire song. One of the most interesting things about Carlos Zens is his ability to move with ease and grace playing waltzes, choros, sambas and forrós. In a most traditional display of “repente” (the music of improvisers in the northeast of Brazil), Zens delights us with “Chuva no Sertão,” which features an introduction with the voice of the late Severino Ferreira reciting a couple of original verses from a “repente.” The flautim, fife and percussion are intoxicating and also return in the title track. It is nearly impossible not to want to dance to this music. The two forrós “Minha Saudade” and “Um Canto pra Natal” are life stories sung in music. The former paints life in the countryside, where the main square is the focus of life for the town, whereas the latter is a homage to the city of Natal. In a surprising move, Zens touches us with his samba in praises of his own neighborhood of Rocas in Natal. It is also worth mentioning here Zens’s soprano sax solo in this track. Unforgettable! Dominguinhos and Carlos Zens deliver a stirring rendition of “Cabeceiras,” a song describing the infinite view of the landscape on a seaside village. Mingo Araújo’s percussion here keeps the beat very marked, as if riding on the back of a lazy mule. Finally, closing Fuxico de Feira‘s chest of surprises, we are given a “ciranda” with special vocals by Lia de Itamaracá.
You think you’ve heard it all, but here is one of those precious albums that comes once in a blue moon. Fuxico de Feira is astounding. Its simplicity and genuine performances are endearing. This is clearly an album to start my best of list for 2005.
Fuxico de Feira
Marca Registrada MR 1059 (2004)
All tracks by Carlos Zens, except where noted.
- Royal Cinema (Tonheca Dantas)
- Escadaria (Pedro Raimundo)
- Panela de Mel (Carlos Zens – José Lucas)
- Chuva no Sertão
- Fuxico de Feira
- Minha Saudade (Carlos Zens – José Lucas)
- Um Canto pra Natal (Augusto Franklin)
- Vilas Brasileiras
- Mestre Francilúzio
- Meu Samba É das Rocas
- Brocoió (Carlos Cruz – Carlos Zens)
- Cabeceiras (Carlos Zens – Dácio Galvão) w/ Dominguinhos & Mingo Araújo
- Cirandando pela Praia – w/ Lia de Itamaracá