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Portuguese jazz singer Maria Mendes finds a distinctive blend that combines elements of her past and her present on Saudade, Colour of Love, recorded live in Amsterdam. Fronting the Netherlands’ famously versatile Metropole Orkest, she takes the fado (Portuguese folk music) of her homeland and weaves it into the Orkest’s symphonic approach to jazz. Drawing songs from her Grammy-nominated album Close to You and adding new material, Mendes and producer, co-arranger and conductor John Beasley get the balance just right: Sinatra-esque orchestral introductions, rippling jazz piano, the melancholy drama of fado, her own forays into scat and improvisation. Check out the epic “Verdes Anos,” which starts with soft strings, moves into a fiery piano solo, and ends with the Orkest doing battle with Mendes’ high-pitched cries and squeals. “E Se Não For Fado” fits squarely in the ballad tradition, keeping the improvisation to a minimum to make the most of its lovely melody. Mendes soars as both singer and scatter on her own “Dança Do Amor,” while “Quando Eu Era Pequenina” takes a traditional Portuguese tune and sends it into orbit. Beloved Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal contributes a brand-new piece to the program, and “Hermeto’s Fado For Maria” ends up as a highlight of the record. Mendes closes the album with “Meu Pobre Capitão,” a new co-composition with Beasley whose creamy melody and Latin shuffle send the audience out smiling. Pulling from two different traditions on Saudade, Mendes manages to make a new one of her own.
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