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Teaming Up for a Tribute Fit for a Samba Queen

World Music: 'ComVida,' a new album of duets by the late Clara Nunes and major Brazilian artists, is a brilliant mix of talent and technology.

June 07, 1996|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Recording a duet with a partner who isn't in the studio at the same time doesn't always produce the best results. Just ask Frank Sinatra.

And doing a duet with old tracks by a singer who died more than a decade ago would seem to be a process replete with possible glitches. But there are no problems on "ComVida" (IRS/Hemisphere), a new recording featuring Clara Nunes, arguably Brazil's greatest female sambista.

When Nunes died in 1982 at 39, she was an international star whose passionate albums, almost all samba-based, repeatedly sold in the half-million range.

"ComVida" is a tribute conceived by Nunes' widower and longtime producer, Paulo Cesar Pinheiro. It includes 14 of her original recordings, electronically modified to incorporate a series of duets with major Brazilian artists such as Milton Nascimento, Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque, Elba Ramalho and Joao Bosco. In some cases--Buarque's "Morena de Angola" and Bosco's "Nacao" are typical--the project combines Nunes' performance with a vocal sung by the song's composer.

The results are remarkable, creatively as well as technically. The Bosco duet, for example, possesses a playful interaction that belies the manner in which it was produced, and the Nascimento number ("Conto De Areia") sounds as though it might have been recorded yesterday.

The album--the most perfect kind of tribute--is a brilliant testimonial to what can be obtained when talent, desire and technology come together. Emotion that was clearly present in the studio when the duets were recorded reaches into the performances, which are filled with the bright, sunny optimism and irresistible rhythms that were essential to Nunes' art.

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On Record: Dancing Cat Records has released two more appealing albums in its Hawaiian slack key guitar series. (In slack key playing, some strings are "slacked" from standard tuning, and the thumb plays bass while the other fingers play in finger-picking style.) "Aloha No Na Kupuna" displays the gentle picking of George Kuo and "Pua'Ena" showcases the sweet-sounding vocals and guitar of Dennis Kamakahi.

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Around Town: Native American singer-songwriter Bill Miller will return to town--opening for Tish Hinojosa at the Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana on Tuesday and the House of Blues on Wednesday--with his indefinable blend of rock, country and indigenous music. Born of Mohican-German parents and raised on the Stockbridge-Munsee reservation in Wisconsin, Miller refuses to be limited by labels. His pieces range from burning instrumental rockers to intimate personal songs and mesmerizing expressions of traditional thought. "What will it take for us to listen to the Great Father," he sings in "Listen to Me." Although he has not yet broken through to a wider audience, Miller is a rare and unusual artist, capable of writing songs that communicate with a rich universality.

Gilberto Gil, an equally complex and unique artist, will appear at the House of Blues on June 23. When Gil and singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso stirred up the melting pot of Brazilian music in the late '60s by adding touches of rock and oblique lyrics, they were roundly condemned and even denounced for national disloyalty by the press.

But Gil persisted and was instrumental in generating an iconoclastic and tremendously popular new Brazilian music form--analogous in some respects to the American and British rock of the '60s--called tropicalismo. Since that time, he has explored music ranging from funk to reggae without abandoning his thoughtful wordplay or his own singular musical identity.

In other events, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, the charismatic Indian sarod player, appears at Occidental College's Thorne Hall on Saturday (Information: [800] 978-2777). . . . The much-acclaimed Portuguese acoustic group Madredeus, featuring the ethereal voice of Teresa Salgueiro, makes its L.A. debut at the Veterans Wadsworth Theater on June 22. . . . World music-related programs at LunaPark this month include Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loka on June 15 in a mix of soukous, rock and salsa, and the high-energy Bahian percussion of Meia Noite & Midnight Drums on June 22. . . . And don't overlook the colorful extravaganza of the Mariachi USA Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, June 22 and 23.

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