Monica

Montreal Bossa-Jazz Thriller sizzles with bahian Roots flava


MONICA FREIRE TRIO performing as part of the UNA MAS ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY PARTY with DJ SERIOUS, JASON PALMA, DEE JAY NAV, MIKE K and Kevin williams at Una Mas (422 Adelaide West), Wednesday (November 28), 8 pm. Free (limited capacity). RSVP cosmosrecords@yahoo.ca Rating: NNNNN


joining gal, joyce, elis, bebel, claudia andEva in the grand tradition of great Brazilian women singers who’ve achieved the honour of single-name status, Montreal’s Monica Freire will soon be known simply as Monica.In fact, that’s already happening in bossa-bonkers Japan, where Freire’s sensual vocal sizzle defined a clubby collaboration with producer Osny Melo that resulted in 96’s Monica and 97’s Monica II albums.

The samba-house bounce of those joints isn’t really an accurate reflection of her sexy, swingin’ Afro-Brazilian jazz concept, which she’s been developing since bringing the carnival flavour of her Salvador de Bahia community to Montreal in 93. But Freire stands by her Japan-only releases and sees them as a different aspect of what she does rather than as an anomaly.

Credit her Tokyo-based Samson label with the prescience to get on the Brazilian breakbeat tip long before Bebel Gilberto proved how profitable it could be.

“There’s a whole new generation of Brazilian artists like Bebel and Lenine who are doing exciting things with the music,” enthuses Freire about her new-school contemporaries. “It’s important that we move the music forward.

“And while I appreciate the programming experiments, for someone like me who comes from a place in Brazil where percussion and acoustic instruments are so crucial, I find I really miss the sound of real drums — the slap of skin on skin — when I listen to Bebel. I need to feel the roots.”

It’s clear that Freire’s made that roots feel a priority in her own bossa-jazz group, the Monica Freire Trio (involving bassist Dan Gigon and percussionist Daniel Bellegarde), which Una Mas co-manager Aki Abe has selected to make his comfortable downtown nightspot’s first-anniversary party an unforgettable event (see sidebar).

“There are many artists all over the world trying different fusions of bossa nova, samba and carnival-style music,” says Movement DJ Aki Abe, who besides Una Mas also runs Toronto collectible-record mecca Cosmos, “but when I saw Monica’s group playing with an authentic Bahian sound — in Ottawa — I was amazed. You just don’t hear that kind of stuff in Canada.

“She has an incredible stage presence and that special Elis Regina quality in her voice that hits you right in your heart. I can’t really explain it other than to say that from the second I heard her, I knew she had it.”

Abe’s right on the money. There’s definitely an Elis quality to Freire’s slinky-smooth delivery and understated smoulder. In a prior conversation with Freire, she happily copped to the inspiration of the Brazilian Billie Holiday.

“When I was eight years old,” recalls Freire, “I remember everyone in my family crowding around the television gasping “Elis! Elis!’ in disbelief at the news that Elis Regina had just died of a drug overdose.

“My older brother used to play her records all the time, but I didn’t really appreciate her music until many years later, when I listened to her songs with the ears of an adult. She had soul like no other singer I’ve heard before or since.

“Over the years, I’ve collected many videos of her performances. She was so strong and intense onstage — you could see the tears running down her face when she sang. Incredible!”

At the moment, Freire is still in the the early stages of planning her jazz group’s long-overdue debut album. She intends to begin recording in Montreal next month and then finish in Brazil with a number of “special guests.” She’s reluctant to reveal exactly who the guests will be until the recording’s in the can, but Gilberto Gil’s right-hand man, Zeca Borges, has been spotted hanging with Freire in Montreal.

“When my albums came out in Japan a few years ago, I went to Brazil to see if there was any interest in having them released there. But I had no manager and no contacts with the record business, so it was very hard to get anywhere.

“I returned home to Montreal. About a month later there was a knock on the door — it was Zeca Borges. He’d somehow heard my music in Brazil, found my phone number and come all the way to Montreal to discuss recording with me.

“He has since introduced me to many talented and powerful people. I’m looking forward to returning to Brazil in the new year for what could turn out to be a very important project. Life is filled with many surprises, isn’t it?”

timp@nowtoronto.comdiscography 1999 Live At Montreux (Lost Chart) w/ Paulo Ramos

1997 Monica II (Samson)

1996 Monica (Samson)

una mas time

In just one short year, Una Mas has turned into one of the city’s top clubs, attracting some of the world’s premier club selectors — including DJ Spinna, Osunlade, DJ Yellow, Greyboy, Rainer Trüby and Peanut Butter Wolf — as well as a dedicated clientele who appreciate the funky left-of-centre sound programming policy as much as the warm, welcoming vibe.

Despite the steadily growing crowds for the popular weekly Uproc (Thursday) and Shifting Gears (Friday) sessions and special events like the incredible performances of S.O.U.L. and Brazil’s Filo Machado, the low-profile nightspot on Adelaide has commendably managed to hang onto its homey atmosphere. According to co-manager Aki Abe, there’s been a conscious effort from the start to keep things cool.

“The idea was for the Una Mas experience to be more like a house party than what you get from a typical nightclub,” he explains. “Everyone who works here is a friend of mine, and so are many of the people who come to hang out. They’re like me — they like hearing good music in a comfortable environment.

“I think we’ve been able to avoid the meat market thing because of our presentation, our location away from the other clubs and the low-key look of the place. You have to make a little more effort to get here.

“For the first few months,” Aki chuckles, “we didn’t even have a sign out front. It was only after we got all these calls about our address that we finally put one up. Even a resident DJ called me up on his cell one night asking for directions, saying he was on Adelaide but couldn’t find it!”TP

UNA MAS TIME

In just one short year, Una Mas has turned into one of the city’s top clubs, attracting some of the world’s premier club selectors — including DJ Spinna, Osunlade, DJ Yellow, Greyboy, Rainer Trüby and Peanut Butter Wolf — as well as a dedicated clientele who appreciate the funky left-of-centre sound programming policy as much as the warm, welcoming vibe.
Despite the steadily growing crowds for the popular weekly Uproc (Thursday) and Shifting Gears (Friday) sessions and special events like the incredible performances of S.O.U.L. and Brazil’s Filo Machado, the low-profile nightspot on Adelaide has commendably managed to hang onto its homey atmosphere. According to co-manager Aki Abe, there’s been a conscious effort from the start to keep things cool.
“The idea was for the Una Mas experience to be more like a house party than what you get from a typical nightclub,” he explains. “Everyone who works here is a friend of mine, and so are many of the people who come to hang out. They’re like me — they like hearing good music in a comfortable environment.
“I think we’ve been able to avoid the meat market thing because of our presentation, our location away from the other clubs and the low-key look of the place. You have to make a little more effort to get here.
“For the first few months,” Aki chuckles, “we didn’t even have a sign out front. It was only after we got all these calls about our address that we finally put one up. Even a resident DJ called me up on his cell one night asking for directions, saying he was on Adelaide but couldn’t find it!”TP

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