These are the kinds of albums that really live with you. Sao Paolo native, Edson Natale’s name may be the lead on the album cover, his visage may be the one seen folding in the background (with guitar in hand), but its those other small names around him that make Nina Maika such a beautiful piece of music. Bringing the sounds/ideas of Clube Da Esquina to there next phase, Nina Maika, was post-MPB, couching for new meanings by ruffling something to discover them. A product of Edson’s background as a half-Egyptian Brazilian, autodidactic guitarist, who fell in love with the music of Milton Nascimento and Lo Borge’s Clube Da Esquina, this release was a tenuous one that could only exist because of him and his spirited exploration of his influences.
Originally, Edson launched a solo career out of a need to go further in his own creative career, but even so, there was always something in the back of his head gnawing at him: was he really good enough to actually do this? It only took some seasoning from other musicians to really flesh out what he had in mind. An idea of saudade mixed with electronics, of a vaporous Amazonia, those were deeply explored in the sadly, out-of-print, and simply outstanding Nina Maika.
It was in 1990, after the end of his groundbreaking Brazilian jazz group Dharana, that Edson had a moment to think about his next step. He had already devoted his time to two brilliant, but ignored, records by that group (Dharana and Guerreiros Do Arco Íris), but yet he wanted to make something that could touch anyone’s soul, and be far less cerebral. Gathering his friends from Dharana they began by reworking an old Dharana track, “Viajante”, into something less jazzy and far more ambient, elemental, and minimal.
Enlisting help from Mitar “Suba” Subotić, the fascinating adopted Yugoslavian ex-pat, they gained something else, luminescent sonics that could add soul-driven tone to the sound Edson was aiming for. Edson had all these ideas waiting to be fleshed out, but for some reason, Edson had always felt he wasn’t as learned, comparable, or seasoned as his co-conspirators. In a way Nina Maika dispelled the fallacy of that kind of thinking. Grounding themselves in Edson’s moving, gossamer guitar, his friends like violinist Alex Braga, and some truly technically-gifted guitarists like André Geraissati and Toninho Horta (who needs no introduction), somehow, they found a way to fit their finesse within the sublime atmospheric musical arrangements by Edson and Suba.
Songs like “Guaimbé”, an interplay between dueling acoustics, violin, and choral vocals, have a certain space within them that was always at the edges of earlier MPB music. Writ large, it was Milton Nascimento’s Milagre Dos Peixes taken to a more personable level. Edu Lobo‘s modal post-bossanova finding an electronic sheen to sublimate. Fleshing out that ambiance is what the actual track “Nina Maika” hints at. A cover of Suba’s own “Moon Cage I” from In The Moon Cage, created just a few years earlier, blurs the edges of these new, Brazilian ideas that the collected crew were opening themselves to. Ambient Yugoslavian music was the last thing one would think Edson would cover, but here it was, wonderfully reimagined in a way that binds those two parallel lines together.
For me the turning point, in what makes this wonderful experiment from Edson a masterpiece is that flip side of this album. Beginning with “Alfacinha” and ending with “Par de Asas”, whether it’s Edson Natale or Edson Cordeiro (guest vocalist) taking the reins to actually add words to music, there’s just a special atmosphere that makes that side a joy to hear. Deconstructing all sorts of Brazilian micro-genres and folk melodies, reconstructing them back with avant garde electronic touches, then adding all sorts of leftfield musical ideas, that second side was and still is simply jaw-dropping gorgeous. Gorgeous in a way that transcends into true grace. Meeting the mind just as strongly as the heart. Nina Maika, a very personal release, one that Edson self-financed (much like Dharana’s records) way back when, still merits a far larger audience than the obscurity its been languishing in – at least enough to get him away from his current job as manager of Itaú Cultural’s Musical Center. It goes without saying, this is absolutely essential listening…