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Oscar Castro-Neves

It is very difficult to try and place Oscar Castro-Neves in any one category, but the nice thing about it is you don't have to. Guitarist, composer, arranger, singer and producer, Castro-Neves fits in all places all at once. This is very readily on display on his new recording All One on Mack Avenue records. When I spoke to him recently, he said that at first he started out with a long list of songs to choose from and that he slowly made his way through the list and managed to get it down to the final fourteen that appear on All One. Why fourteen? "Because I could not let the last two go so instead of 12, I recorded 14."

The connecting element on this recording is the Brazilian guitar, the nylon string Brazilian guitar to be exact. This instrument unites these songs of romance and the joy in living that is embodied in Oscar Castro-Neves together. There is an undeniable warmth to Brazilian music and to Mr. Castro-Neves as well, the songs have a hypnotic effect on the listener. They draw you in and remind you that life is worth the effort to live it and that this music is the soundtrack to love and romance, elements that can be often times forgotten in our hectic world.

"I am a basket of influences," Castro-Neves says. "Literature, art, the world around us all plays a part, nobody creates from an island." Chopin, Sinatra, Sting--the list of influences are many and varied. "Just as an artist would put blue here or yellow there, when I work with an orchestra, for example, I put strings here and woodwinds there. I see music in terms of color just as an artist does."

On All One there are several familiar numbers and names such as Coltrane and Monk and songs like "'Round Midnight" and "The Very Thought of You," and each passed through the filter that is Oscar Castro-Neves. On the Coltrane number "Naima," for example, Castro-Neves surrounded it with a hip-hop loop and then a samba loop. The idea was "not to destroy the ballad , but "honor it." The end result is classic Castro-Neves.

When you come across a recording like this, trying to pick out one song or two that can be considered a favorite is next to impossible, however there is one song here that is unique on this disk, "Morrer De Amor" or "I Live To Love You." Written in the mid-sixties, it was recorded by Sarah Vaughn in 1965 on the album Songs From Brazil, and it has since become a standard at weddings and one of Castro-Neves' biggest hits. The soulful violin and piano combination along with Luciana Sousa's vocals are breath taking and the song remains very close to its creator's heart. It's interesting to note here that the song was entered into a competion and lost, yet the winning song has since drifted into oblivion where "Morrer De Amor" has become a part of the fabric of Brazilian culture.

"Holding With an Open Hand" and "More Than Yesterday," both Oscar Castro-Neves' originals, are played in the style of Choro, a style of guitar playing that has it's origins in the urban Rio of the 1800's. Despite that historical connection , Castro-Neves says that it is the Brazilian version of Be Bop, and it is based more in improvisation, a jazz staple, than classical music.

In addition to the musician/arranger and songwriter duties, there is the the singer. Now as Oscar himself says in the liner notes to All One, "I don't think I am going to put Tony Bennett out of business," but there is a very earthy quality to the voice, and a deep sensual tone that may not be as polished as some. But in his own way, it is far more believable and real. It is all part of the need to tell a good story--to be able to communicate on more than one level, to allow Castro-Neves to put in his "two cents worth."

Perhaps the best way to sum up the person that is Oscar Castro-Neves is in his own words. "Music is a great metaphor for human relationships. Take for example a string quartet--the first violin, the highest voice, will carry the melody, but not always. Suddenly, it may play a counterpoint line or nothing at all. The cello, the lowest voice, will support the group with its lines. But it may,at any moment, take the lead and become the soloist or be silent and let the rest of the group take over. The constantly evolving dynamic of the group is a fragile entity. If you speak too loudly or softly or at the wrong moment, you suffer. The group suffers and most importantly, the music suffers. The world we live in also is a fragile entity. We are all together and must learn to respect ourselves with the same respect for our neighbor and for the community at large. If we persistently work with compassion and resolve to sustain this delicate balance, our world will benefit. We are all one, one really big orchestra trying to find the perfect harmony. May the muse help us create a truly joyful planet." Not bad advice from someone who just considers himself a lucky fellow getting to do for a living that which he loves.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Oscar Castro-Neves
  • Interview Date: 3/1/2006
  • Subtitle: All One
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