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Mitch’s Monthly Mix: Kiko Klaus, O vivido e o inventado; Al Stewart and Dave Nachmanoff live at Walters Cultural Center

Forthcoming Mitch’s Monthly Mix columns will feature themed mix tapes created by Mitch Ritter. In his expressive, stunning writing, Mitch will weave vivid stories as evocative as the music he writes about. Until the first of those appears, enjoy Mitch’s take on Brazilian phenom Kiko Klaus’s last album and his experiences with Al Stewart & Dave Nachmanoff from one of their shows in Oregon last winter.

Kiko Klaus. (Click to visit the artist's website.)

Kiko Klaus
O vivido e o inventado {The Lived & the Invented}
[Camarada CRIKKCD08 (2008)]

Highly regarded Brazilian producer and session-man Kiko Klaus released a critically lauded independent solo project in 2008 that had not yet found its way into Anglo world music markets by the time of Klaus’s string of performances in Chicago and New York in September, 2009. Staffers at Public Radio International (PRI) and AfroPop Worldwide performed a major national cultural service in retrieving this nearly bypassed subtle sonic creation. Long before Anglo-speaking North Americans reach the 12th and final cut, “Mr. Egoman”—written by Klaus in English and tartly limning the beastly tendencies of our advanced modern orientation toward personal greed and opportunism—a listener will have been submerged in refreshing alternatives felt through the delicate mesh of regional percussion from various genres and traditions of the vast Minas Gerais inland region, the capital of which, Belo Horizonte, is where Klaus now makes his home.

The colorful musicality of the Brazilian Portuguese language is front and center on such Klaus compositions as “Pra me Encontrar,” which rides Andre Lima’s deep Hammond organ groove as Egler Bruno’s flatted electric guitar intertwines with Klaus’s nylon-strung violão (Spanish classical guitar associated with samba giants like João Gilberto) and Pupilo’s funky drums reach from a nest of Lenis Rino’s precise percussion. Juliana Perdigão’s clarinet rises through the redolent “O Samoa Chora” and slithers into a klezmery lather on Wagner Pã’s “Caminhao,” arranged so that the Brazilian double-reed bassoon of Lamartine Tavares bumps timbre with double-tracked choral harmony.

Reached at home, Klaus explained, “Poetically, I wanted to tell stories of my life, creating visual soundscapes of it, images, memories. Particular instruments create curious organic textures, like the cooking pans used as a steel pan, or vibraphone in the song ‘Aurora.’ A picture of our actual time, contemporary life. I have a deep connection with poetry, so the phrase ‘the lived and the invented’ comes from a poem of one of Brazil’s biggest poets, Carlos Drummond de Andrade. It says exactly what I wanted to say.”

The piece with a marvelous Pernambucan panache that defies literal translation is “Varanda/Terrace.” Aline Calixto’s unbearably restrained vocal harmony floats alongside Klaus’ almost surreal litany of the carefree:

The terrace was strong
The sea was clear and flat
Yucca, coconut, and mango
And a good tea to calm

is swept away by Os Mutantes’ percussionist, the aptly named Simone Soul. Again, Lima’s Hammond organ groove could cut a wadi through the coastal range separating the dank, humid Atlantic coast from Klaus’ drier inland home: the Memphis organ groove of recently deceased Willie Mitchell (who produced “Love and Happiness” for Al Green) may have hitched a ride with an Orixa/Orisha to a candoblé ritual, where the ciranda folk rhythms hold sway among the terreiro’s circle dancers and caruru is shared around.

—Mitch Ritter (Beaverton, OR)

Al Stewart in concert. Photo by Karen Doucet.

Al Stewart & Dave Nachmanoff
Walters Cultural Center

Hillsboro, Oregon
February 4, 2010

Returning to the quieter suburban environs of the Walters Cultural Center in Hillsboro after a Fall 2008 detour to Portland’s Aladdin Theater, Al Stewart has been visiting Oregon for various purposes long enough to have cultivated a couple generations of both mainstream song-lovers and an edgier bohemian audience drawn to his literary material and witty, if distancing, ability to witness history repeating, sometimes as tragedy but more often as farce. An all-too-brief three-song opening set of workingman vignettes long on decency and whose characters get chewed up by time if not by any lack of moral probity, was offered by longtime touring mate and exciting lead guitarist Dave Nachmanoff, who was joined by an old Kerrville, Texas folk fest songwriting friend on bass and harmonies to splendid effect.

Strolling out to center stage, Al Stewart strummed the clashing and clanging chords of a 2008 avian allegorical reflection “Angry Bird.” He added a post-script dedicating the tune to his teenage Trotskyist peers (a wink to Ray Davies and the Kinks?) still living with their parents in the Post World War if not quite Post Imperial United Kingdom. Nachmanoff tore off some vicious bent-note steel-string guitar runs spewing the bile only artfully hinted at in Stewart’s gloss:

Radical penguins led you astray
You say that wings are so passé
You’re an angry bird walking in circles
No way out, angry bird.

I spied more than one teen seated between parents with a guitar case either jammed under their seat or set in the aisle and imagined they were taking note of how to musically represent bile consumption with jaunty flair and gypsy blues. Davey Graham was smiling down from a beat London gas-lit café in the sky.

Stewart in chatty if focused fashion is the raconteur to top, as exotic as newsprint to the Google-eyed generation of self-referential writers regenerating popdom. His childhood recollection of attending a 1959 Scottish show accompanied by his mom and the indelible impressions left by “Rebel Rouser”-era Link Wray’s out-of-tune rumbling electric guitar strung with chain-link fence, recreated on this night in Oregon a rainy season substitute for bug-eyed campfire wonder. As Stewart was obliging enough to feature a number of requested songs during the evening, vaudeville shtick entered from stage left in the person of nattily attired tour aide de camp, Ronnie, who unscrolled quite the long-running parchment. Before gamely attempting this oft-requested, if rarely performed novella from 1993’s sleeper indie release Famous Last Words, Stewart nodded over to the splayed megillah and quipped, “If it looks like too many words for a song you may leave for the lobby where I’ll join you, as intermission will follow. This is not anything you’ve ever seen the Ramones do.” Impressively, Stewart only occasionally stole a glance for a stray verse to “Trains,” a 19th and 20th century spanning epic rumination, from innocent childhood fixation to vehicle of genocide in the German deployment of the Euro rail lines to the death camps in Poland. Again deftly using contrast to balance the emotional weight, Stewart rewarded the attentive younger members of the crowd with a recitation of his favorite They Might Be Giants song, noting they’re not given to “Gabba Gabba Hey” concision either.

On his last tour in 2008, joined at the restored old vaudeville music hall Aladdin Theater in the Brooklyn section of southeast Portland by a twenty-something duo providing keyboard and harmony backing and another fierce turn by Dave Nachmanoff bringing out the British invasion pre-Bedsitter Images picker in Stewart, a new song named “Sleepwalker” was introduced. At the time, Bernie Madoff hadn’t yet entered the household, er, homeless lexicon, and the exotic tale of a dapper jet-setting stranger sought out by the wealthy for investment opportunities only to disappear with the community’s funds didn’t quite register. However, as 2008’s Sparks of Ancient Light became a favorite oft-listened to album, the subtleties and inescapable prescience of “Sleepwalking” sank in. When Stewart introduced a song on the current global economic crisis, name-checking Greece, Spain, and the Balkan states slide from EU “standards,” I was expecting a seamless segue into the money-mismanagement ballad to top them all. Stewart surprised with a dip further back into his remarkable songbook retrieving the mid-70’s “Midas Shadow” from his own commercial LP goldmine Year of the Cat. Layer upon layer of serendipitous irony will attend any stroll through the Stewart catalog dreamily dissolving into disorienting déjà vu.

Punctuating the dual guitar Django jazzy swing of “Warren Gamliel Harding” and “Night Train to Munich” with more personal ballads, Stewart charmed the Oregon chapel-cum-music hall with his 2006 “later-in-life” romance, “Katherine of Oregon.” All of Stewart’s far-flung bookish and improbable musical influences come together elegantly and amorously in his refrain

I’ll get a jukebox that plays Lonnie Donegan
And I’ll spend my evenings with Katherine of Oregon.

—Mitch Ritter (Beaverton, OR)

© 2010 DriftwoodMagazine.com, All rights reserved.

[Editor’s note: The photo of Al Stewart was originally mistakenly credited to the author. The photo was actually taken by Karen Doucet.]

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