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Olivia Byington portrait Singer Olivia Byington represents what I would call the high-brow end of the Brazilian MPB scene. Classically-trained and avant-leaning, Byington made a splash in the 1970s, collaborating with numerous musical luminaries, including Chico Buarque, Radames Gnattali, Tom Jobim, Paulo Moura, Wagner Tiso and others. Much of her work is a bit too tony for me, but her charisma and presence are undeniable. Here's a quick look at her work...


Olivia Byington "Corra A Risco" (Continental, 1978)
Byington's debut album, with backing from cellist Jacques Morelenbaum and his band, O Barca Do Sol. The album is experimental and challenging, full of wild musical flourishes and ornate vocal trills, a mix of influences and styles, and a restless creativity. Notable for a Brazilian record is a strong strain of non-Brazilian Latin-American music, hints of salsa, flamenco and a tango from the great Astor Piazzolla. There's also a mix of MPB and regional styles, melded to jazz/rock fusion, with delicate acoustic arrangements next to electronic keyboards and thudding rhythmic moves. Personally, I find it a little too challenging for the most part -- cool in concept, but not something I'd want to listen to recreationally. Certainly worth checking out if you're delving into Brazilian prog music... Even though the album is credited to Olivia, it is often also considered a Barca Do Sol record.

Olivia Byington "Anjo Vadio" (Som Livre, 1980)
A mix of classical-tinged art song, and lofty, half-electric prog-rock. Uh... ummmmm... I guess I can respect the purity of her ambitions, but for the most part, I can't really stand the music. The opening tracks are too bombastic, what follows is too flowery, and I know I'll take flak for saying so, but I don't really care for Byington's voice on here... She's too songbirdish and sharp for me, although she does sing with great depth and authority. A bunch of high-powered collaborators on here, including Egberto Gismonti, Paulo Moura, Turibio Santos and Clara Sverner... I suspect Moura, at least is on the choro-tinged "Uva de Caminhao," the lone track on here that I enjoyed listening to (although the elegant closing track, "Mais Clara, Mais Crua," with Gismonti on piano, came close...) Ultimately, I let this one go - just not my cup of tea.

Olivia Byington "Identidad" (Som Livre, 1983)
(Produced by Silvio Rodriguez)

A bilingual record that includes both Portuguese and Spanish lyrics -- one of her more accessible early albums. For this release, Byington traveled to Havana to record with some of the leading musicians of the Cuban "nueva cancion" political folksong scene. Pablo Milanes, Frank Fernandez, Emiliano Salvador and others were involved in one way or another -- the ever-present cello makes me think Jaques Morelenbaum was along for the ride, too, but the liner notes aren't clear -- and of course, Silvio Rodriguez acted as the album's producer. Anyway, even though there are still some torturous, artsy moments, they aren't as torturous and artsy as on other albums, and the music is generally pretty mellow, including some salsa-oriented songs and clever adaptations of Brazilian tropicalia anthems such as Gilberto Gil's "Procissao" and Caetano Veloso's "Soy Loco Por Ti America." Worth checking out if you want to give Byington a fair chance.

Olivia Byington "Musica" (Elenco/Opus, 1984)

Olivia Byington "Encontro" (Kuarup, 1984)
A collaboration with classical pianist Clara Sverner, jazz saxophonist Paulo Mouro and violinist Turibio Santos, covering everything from Erik Satie and Claude Debussy to Luiz Gonzaga and Tom Jobim.

Olivia Byington "Melodia Sentimental" (Continental, 1987)

Olivia Byington & Joao Carlos Assis-Brasil "Olivia Byington & Joao Carlos Assis-Brasil " (CBS, 1990)
A collaboration with pianist Joao Carlos Assis-Brasil, including medleys of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Kurt Weil, Cartola and Tom Jobim.

Olivia Byington "A Dama Do Encantado" (Universal, 1998)
A tribute to samba-cancao star Araci De Almeida... (Reissued on the Biscoito Fino label...)

Olivia Byington "Cancao Do Amor Demais" (Biscoito Fino, 2003)
A stately, somewhat classicist MPB reading of thirteen standards written by Vinicius De Moraes and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Surrounded by piano, flute and other relaxed, acoustic instrumentation, Byington has a light, slightly piercing voice, but a reserved style that perhaps calls for a more emphatic, emotive delivery. Not bad, by any means, but it didn't completely grab me. Joao Lyra and Dirceu Liete are among the musicians backing her up on this outing.

Olivia Byington "Olivia Byington" (Biscoito Fino, 2007)

Olivia Byington "Vida E Perto" (Biscoito Fino, 2009)


Olivia Byington "Serie Dois Em Um" (Warner, 2002)
This 2-in-1 CD reissue combines two albums recorded for the Continental label, her 1978 debut, Corra A Risco, and 1987's Melodia Sentimental.


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