While often hailed as the natural heir to the tradition of Joao Gilberto and Gilberto Gil, Brooklyn-based Brazilian expatriate Vinicius Cantuaria is decidedly more “nova” than “bossa.” The 49-year-old singer-composer has worked extensively in recent years with some of America’s more envelope-pushing experimental musicians, including Laurie Anderson, Bill Frisell and No Wave pioneer Arto Lindsay.
Cantuaria and guitarist Lindsay staged a fascinating, intimate duet performance as part of the singer’s two-night stint at Tonic — which also included a separate show pairing Cantuaria with Marc Ribot. Lindsay, who was born in South America, has changed gears markedly since his days as an unreconstructed noise-splatterer. Yes, much of the material presented here was angular — some even quietly atonal — but there was a sense of pastoral beauty deep within.
Since both men are decidedly alinear guitarists, the set was rife with twists and turns — yet virtually free of overtly jarring moments. Playing off each other with a sense of ease — as well as a subtle competition — they delved back into Cantuaria’s catalog for lovely versions of collaborations such as “Maralvihar” and the rich, pulsing “Sanfona.”
Trained as a percussionist, Cantuaria brings a soft swing to his acoustic material — and uses his liquid voice much as a drummer would apply brushes to a kit. It’s a mannered approach, to be sure, but this evening — particularly on versions of the fragile “Nova de Sete” and the more sultry “Agua Rasa” — he alchemized that ice into a cool, refreshing breeze.
Like Gilberto before him, Cantuaria paints almost exclusively in tones of blue — from the deep indigo of a forlorn ballad to the azure glimmer of a slinking samba. When contrasted by the deeply hued notes Lindsay brought in from the other end of the spectrum, those colors danced and dazzled, forming a rainbow that cut through the early evening murk.