Monday, December 10, 2018

Off jazz: 12 by Ordinarius

Ordinarius—a word-play after their musical director and arranger, Augusto Ordine—is the name of a vocal sextet faring from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Left to right: Maíra Martins, Augusto Ordine, Matias Corrêa, Fabiano Salek,
Beatriz Coimbra, Mateus Xavier, Rebeca Vieira.

Besides their fresh faces and smiles, which you can enjoy in their 80+ YouTube videos, Ordinarius have been providing a solid musical offering for over ten years. Their three independently-produced albums focus on three different concepts: The first, Ordinarius (2012), is an overview of MPB (Brazilian popular music), wide enough in time and cultural viewpoints to encompass Gilberto Gil and Carmen Miranda. The second, Rio de Choro (2015), focuses on “choro”, a mainly instrumental—note the paradox—genre whose origins are roughly contemporary to Tango to the south and Ragtime to the north. In the third, Notável (2017), Ordine has gone all out for an unashamed homage to Carmen Miranda—a/k/a “a pequenha notável”—a very popular but controversial figure in Brazilian culture, vis-a-vis her role in presenting Brazil to the outside world via the US. There is a fourth album, Extra, a digital-only collection of tracks previously available on YouTube.

In order of appearance, and left to right: Mateus Xavier, Maíra Martins, Luiza Sales,
Fernanda Gabriela, Augusto Ordine, Gustavo Campos, André Miranda.

As a vocal group doing cover versions, arrangements and repertoire are central to their concept. While they have added some more instruments in Notável, all their earlier music consisted in six voices and very sparse percussion, a minimalist approach which, hopefully, they will not abandon completely. Regarding his arrangements, and as an example of Ordine's creativity, take a look at Pixinguinha's “Rosa”. If my ears don't fail me, at 1:10, the first “tu es...” (“you are...”) the sextet sings in parallel harmonies; at 1:23, the second “tu es...”, the girls, and then the boys, sing the melody in unison and, now that the listener already knows the melody, from 1:37 the group sings just harmonies, with no voices singing the actual melody. Incidentally, this is the one of the few pieces of their repertoire showcasing Ordine as a soloist.

Clockwise: Maíra Martins, André Miranda, Leticia Carvalho,
Augusto Ordine, Luiza Sales, Marcelo Saboya.

As for repertoire, they cover the whole range of Brazilian popular music and beyond, with some incursions in English-language songs. However, there is a glaring but welcome omission in their book, especially telling for us foreigners: There is very little, if any, “bossa-nova”. As far as I can tell, they haven't done any of the 36 tracks included in João Gilberto's seminal first three LPs, and neither any Jobim tunes, except “Agua de Beber” and the lesser-known “Estrada do Sol”. Brazil's musical wells are so wide and deep that Ordine has more than once spiced things up with the introduction of excerpts from other tunes, like “Aquarela do Brasil” and the tango “Por una cabeza” in “O Samba e O Tango”, “Tico Tico No Fubá” in “André Do Sapato Novo”, or “Brasileirinho” in “Baião de Quatro Toques”.

Left to right: Augusto Ordine, Leticia Carvalho, André Miranda, Maíra Martins, 
Luiza Sales, Marcelo Saboya, Mateus Xavier.

Despite the turnover in the group, unavoidable given its part-time status, the standard of singers has remained remarkably untouched. With Ordine and Maíra Martins—their executive producer—, there have been other singers besides the ones you see on the videos here, namely Marcela Mangabeira. The third constant member of the group, its secret weapon, is the powerfully quiet Mateus Xavier, percussionist. Fans of rhythmic music will appreciate his very laid-back playing, and the drive he can get with just one pandeiro, as in the live version of “Baião de Quatro Toques”, or in “Choros Nº 1”, for which he arranged a batucada, bringing back to the streets what Villa-Lobos took to the concert hall.

Left to right: Maíra Martins, Leticia Carvalho, Alice Sales, 
Marcelo Saboya, André Miranda, Augusto Ordine.

As a taster of their work, I've put together a selection of twelve of their recordings. You can listen to them on Spotify and YouTube. In order to appreciate Ordine's and his singers' work adapting those pieces, you can hear the same tunes plus the (likely) originals, again on Spotify and YouTube. For a more detailed look at the inner workings of the arrangements, look for their series "por dentro de o arranjo" (“inside the arrangement”—links below).

Ordinarius will touring the US next January (dates).


  • Complete Recordings (including singles and collaborations) (Spotify)
Por dentro do arranjo (“inside the arrangement”)
Interview (English subtitles): YouTube
Interview (in Portuguese): YouTube

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