This past July Adventure Music released its third album featuring vocalist, pianist, and composer Clarice Assad, entitled Relíquia (relic). The album is her first recording project with her father Sérgio, who is probably best known for his guitar duo performances with his brother Odair. I must confess that, in the framework of my own listening experiences, the release came at a good time. This past April the Assad Brothers gave their seventh performance in San Francisco under the auspices of San Francisco Performances (SFP); and that evening also turned out to be Clarice’s SFP debut. By this time, however, Clarice was no stranger to San Francisco audiences; and, on the classical side, her music had been performed by both the New Century Chamber Orchestra (for which she was featured composer during the 2008–2009 season) and Symphony Parnassus.
Relíquia, on the other hand, is an album of eleven songs, four by Clarice and the remaining seven, including the album’s title track, by Sérgio. At this point I have to confess that my knowledge of Portuguese is, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. (I barely know how to pronounce the lexemes properly.) Nevertheless, while I may be weak on the specifics of content, I was able to compensate, at least in part, by bringing calling upon my concert experience while listening to the new recording. Clarice performed one of her contributions to this album, “The Last Song” (which has no words), at her SFP debut, along with Sérgio’s “Cidade” (city), the album’s opening track. At the risk of devolving into a Zen kōan, I can say that, in my concert experience, I was drawn to the intriguing rhetoric of understatement, even if I was never quite sure what was being stated.
As I listened to Relíquia, I realized that, while my classical upbringing had drawn me to the wild eccentricities of bebop, my exposure to the music of Antônio Carlos Jobim had predisposed me to this more subdued approach to making music. Like many in the United States, I became aware of Jobim when I was an undergraduate as a result of his collaborations with saxophonist Stan Getz. Sérgio would have known about him earlier in his life; but, on the other hand, Sérgio is about six and one-half years younger than I am!
Whatever my semantic barriers may be, however, there was a profound sense of intimacy that came from listening the Clarice perform with her father and uncle in a concert setting; and listening to Relíquia did much to revive memories of that sense. It is not a cop-out to say that this music speaks for itself regardless of what the words are trying to say. Much of the rhetorical impact is not limited to the words of the songs. It comes as much from Clarice’s keyboard work and the consistently expressive phrasing that Sérgio brings to his guitar work. It is also worth noting that such expressiveness is enhanced by the inclusion of a few “special guests” contributing to five of the tracks. These include clarinetist Derek Bermel, mandolinist Mike Marshall, percussionist Keita Ogawa, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and vocalist Angela Olinto, all of whom are just as much at home in that prevailing rhetoric of understatement.
This is an album that rewards the attentive listener through the discovery that the quietude of the surface structure is that of still waters that run very deep.