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Monday, September 26, 2011

Sunday: Vinicius Cantuária Fittingly Inhabits a Museum

Posted By on Mon, Sep 26, 2011 at 8:55 AM

DEAN SCHAFFER
  • Dean Schaffer

Vinicius Cantuária

Sept. 25, 2011

@ Florence Gould Theater at the Legion of Honor

Better than: Admiring paintings by the Dutch and Flemish masters.

For the uninitiated, the Florence Gould Theater sits in the basement of the Legion of Honor, an art museum near Land's End that dates back to 1924. The museum houses typical museum stuff -- sculptures, paintings, elaborate ceilings. The auditorium itself fits nicely, with Corinthian columns surrounding the stage and a mural adorning the ceiling.

About five minutes into singer and guitarist Vinicius Cantuária's set last night, it started to make a lot of sense that his group was playing where it was.

Cantuária's brand of Brazilian jazz (sort of) was delicately nuanced, sort of like the pieces upstairs. Joined by Takuya Nakamura on piano, Itaiguara Brandão on bass, Adriano Santos on drums, and Dende on percussion, Cantuária and his deep yet fleeting voice left an impression of confident fragility. At one point in the set's fourth song, Dende played a tiny hand drum by tapping on it with one finger, creating a sound that was both somehow audible and essential to the groove.

DEAN SCHAFFER
  • Dean Schaffer

The set included 13 songs plus an encore, but we'd be lying if we said we knew the titles to any of them -- Cantuária sang entirely in Portuguese, which we couldn't understand, but could definitely appreciate.

Somewhat to our surprise, though, a good portion of the audience seated close to the stage seemed to speak the language, as evidenced by their compliance when Cantuária asked the crowd (in Portuguese) to sing along to one of his songs. After the show, when Cantuária came out from backstage, we realized that some of these Portuguese listeners seemed to be friends and family, as Cantuária greeted them with kisses and hearty handshakes. We wouldn't mention it if it weren't so endearing.

As a guitarist, Cantuária fit in with the band -- like his fellow musicians, he seemed almost to avoid sounding prominent at the expense of the group. (To borrow a simile from our friend who joined us for the show, Brandão seemed almost like a praying mantis on bass, barely even moving as he plied notes from his instrument.) Cantuária's playing mostly accompanied the general vibe, which ranged from extremely sparse and quiet to upbeat and almost funky.

DEAN SCHAFFER
  • Dean Schaffer

The final song in the set, a long, meandering, almost spacey tune, showcased Cantuária at his most experimental. Nakamura played piano with one hand and coaxed a synthesizer with the other, adding wave-like swells of sound and noise to the music. Dende put his small set of strange noisemakers to full use, complementing his hand drums with bells, shakers, chimes, and even whistles.

Cantuária's chops didn't impress us like Frisell's did when the latter managed to infuse subtle, understated playing with an almost alien form of incredible virtuosity. Rather, Cantuária's approach to the guitar pushes fewer boundaries and breaks fewer rules -- and it's one piece of a pleasing picture.

Critic's Notebook

Most clichéd but apt observation about the show: Some songs were so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

Least clichéd but very true observation about the show: One song was so quiet the entire audience heard my glasses case accidentally drop from my lap to the floor.

Prevailing audience demographic: About what you'd expect for an art museum with an exhibition called "The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy."

Most appropriate end to the day: On our way out, a mom took a picture of her husband and kids in front of the museum: "One, two, three -- 'Art is fun!'"

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