A Richly Chiming Lincoln Center Debut by Fado Guitarist Marta Pereira da Costa

by delarue

Even though Portuguese fado music typically deals with intense emotions, there was a special edge in guitarist Marta Pereira da Costa’s playing in her Lincoln Center debut last night. Often when she’d reach the end of a phrase, there would be more of a defiant clang than a chime in her intricate, incisive phrasing, as she fingerpicked her acoustic Portuguese twelve-string model. And she’s funny, and kind of badass: she knew she owned the crowd, and she didn’t try to hide it. In the world of fado, she’s a rarity, as a woman instrumentalist, composer and bandleader: could it be that she’s had to be better than the guys in order to earn the respect she deserves?

A common perception around the globe is that American audiences’ taste in music matches their taste in food: bland and boring. So it’s no surprise that so many state-sponsored tours by acts from outside the country don’t take any chances, or deliberately water down indigenous sounds which are far more interesting on their home turf. Last night’s concert, part of the ongoing fado festival around town, was a welcome exception. As is Jordana Leigh, the Lincoln Center impresario who programmed the show: “New York being an international city, we can’t imagine not putting on international shows that celebrate the diversity of our culture,” she reminded the sold-out audience.

Backed by an elegant quartet of António Pinto on acoustic guitar, Miguel Amado on bass, André Sousa Machado on drums and accordionist Alexandre Diniz, who doubled on piano, Da Costa didn’t limit herself to the plaintive strains of fado, either. One of the night’s most gripping numbers was a moody bolero over a syncopated clave; another was a flamenco-tinged tune, rising and falling with fiery flares, toward the end of the set.

Beyond the lattice of guitars, there wasn’t a lot of interplay or soloing from the rest of the band, other than an unexpected blunderbuss drum break and a more jazz-tinged solo from the piano. Which makes sense: fado is typically vocal music, so that left Da Costa to carry the moody, minor-key melody lines of these songs without words.

In the beginning of the set, she did that with an effortless precision, often with her eyes closed, through elegant single-note patterns, flinging chordlets into the air with the occasional, breathtaking crescendo and a precision so unwavering that it sounded like she was tremolopicking. As the show went on, the songs took on more of a careening edge. Minha Alma, the first song she ever wrote, had more of a pervasive, resonant angst than mere heartbreak. Song number two in her original catalog had more of a jaunty Django strut.

Along with a couple of lingering, resigned traditional fado ballads, Da Costa also introduced a couple of brand-new songs. Memories, inspired by the loss of her grandmother, had a wistful solo intro, Pinto and then the rest of the band joining in a gentle, fond ballad whose distant sense of loss transcended words. From there they picked up with a racewalking minor-key theme fueled by biting volleys of sixteenth notes.

For those who missed it, Da Costa is at Drom tonight, March 15 at 7:15 sharp for $15. There’s another free show tonight at 7:30 at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St., with oldschool salsa dura grooves from one of the style’s great percussionists, Luisito Quintero and his band. Get there early if you’re going.