NEW YORK TIMES - Enjoying the Quiet Pleasures of a Meeting of Minds

June 8, 2011
By Nate Chinen


Vinicius Cantuária, right, performing with Bill Frisell at the Highline Ballroom.

Vinicius Cantuária and Bill Frisell sat facing the audience, but angled toward each other, throughout their calmly transfixing show at the Highline Ballroom on Monday night. Each cradled a guitar - nylon-string acoustic for Mr. Cantuária, electric for Mr. Frisell - and both often had slight smiles on their faces, the sort of expression you might wear while hearing an old friend tell a fondly half-remembered tale. The setting was sparse, but the performance, part of the Blue Note Jazz Festival, conveyed a sense of fullness.

It lasted about 90 minutes and drew mainly from "Lágrimas Mexicanas" (E1), the album that Mr. Cantuária and Mr. Frisell released early this year. Produced by Lee Townsend, it's a casually refined collaboration that takes advantage of both musicians' versatility. In addition to guitar and vocals, Mr. Cantuária plays overdubbed hand percussion; Mr. Frisell plays acoustic and electric guitars and tends to an array of sampled loops. At times it sounds as if they're working with a band.

That wasn't the case in the show, and it turned out to be a good thing. Mr. Cantuária played his guitar without a pickup, using an external microphone and no discernible effects. Mr. Frisell flirted with some looping and occasionally used an octave pedal, but in both cases he exercised a scrupulous subtlety. Their roles were consistent: Mr. Cantuária sang and finger-picked a rhythmic scaffolding, while Mr. Frisell improvised light filigree, elevating the songs with his economical phrasing and softly glowing tone.

Mr. Cantuária originally comes from Brazil, but he has lived in New York awhile, and "Lágrimas Mexicanas" ("Mexican Tears") is his nod to the city's Spanish-speaking cultural mix. The album's title track inspired the liveliest digressions from both guitarists, and the longest lead-in before the vocals. "Aquela Mulher," an early highlight of the show, touched on aspects of Cuban son. "Lágrimas de Amor" was more delicate but no less focused, with a coordinated guitar line and a barely audible atmospheric buzz deployed by Mr. Frisell.

Still, a few of the more gratifying moments revolved around Brazil, the source of Mr. Cantuária's main sustenance. This included a reverential cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova standard "Vivo Sonhando," sung in the introspective but self-assured style of João Gilberto; and "Quase Choro," a ballad with an intriguing chord progression, from one of Mr. Cantuária's solo albums.

Mr. Frisell played as beautifully on those songs as on the material from "Lágrimas Mexicanas," meshing easily with his partner and ducking in and out of step with the syncopations.  Here in its barest form, it was a kind of seduction.