more than 50 years of living under my belt, I have belatedly discovered
that when attending a concert I hate being distracted by (an abbreviated
list): the painstakingly slow removal of cough candy from its
wrapper, fortissimo throat clearing aerobics and late arrivals
climbing over my long legs to get to their seats. For much of
Luciana Souza’s unexpectedly satisfying concert during the
2009 Montreal Jazz Festival at Club Soda, I was
consistently distracted by her exceptional guitarist, Romero Lubambo,
even when his playing -- in the spirit of self-effacement (an
almost extinct musical virtue) -- was barely audible, in sympathetic
support of a talented vocalist who now bases herself in New York.
Before the concert began, she made a point of informing the audience
that “it is always a pleasure to be playing with such an
accomplished guitarist.” A baker’s dozen bars later,
we all knew that to be true.
comes by her music honestly: Her mother, Tereza Souza, is a poet;
her father, Walter Santos, a singer-composer-guitarist; to which
I would add: being born in São Paulo doesn’t hurt.
She has been nominated three times for a Grammy Award as Best
Jazz Vocalist in 2002, 2003 and 2005, winning one in 2008 for
her collaboration with Herbie Hancock on Joni Mitchell’s
“River.” She has also worked with Maria Schneider
and Kenny Werner.
bilingual -- she sings both in Portuguese and English -- but for
her Montreal concert it was mostly in Portuguese, a language that
lends itself to a winsomely willowy voice that can flow like water
over smooth stone or wash over the body like a gentle rain. Like
all good singers, she knows the limitations of her voice and refuses
to belt out songs that might suggest she’s competing with
octave-dangling Dianne Reeves. Despite increasing requests to
play big, she gravitates to small venues to evoke the intimacy
that connects her with audiences that bend to her voice and voicing
as easily as heliotropes take to the sun. Which means she must
know how to sing because her voice, in its range and sonority,
doesn’t compare to the great voices.
what to do with a voice and what material it best serves is often
better than having only a great voice. How many of us would concede
that Nora Jones doesn’t have as good a voice as Diana Krall,
for example? And as for Sting, what issues from his larynx is
more of a sound than a song– and yet in both instances,
no one does it better.
Luciana Souza does persuasively well is surrender to what is most
evocative in the music she chooses instead of self-consciously
trying to take possession of it. Her ease and comfort with sometimes
very difficult material is so unforced the audience concedes it
to her. I can’t think of another singer who does everything
so right and so naturally, and that of course includes partnering
with Romero Lubambo, who, without mincing passing chords, is one
of Brazil's great guitarists.
context of a sound we’re all familiar with, Lubambo introduces
a vocabulary of chords and runs (voice rejoinders) that are out
of this world, even in accompaniment. Along with guitarist Badi
Assad, they are so inventive within the mostly
acoustic context, their work stands as prima facie evidence
that Brazilian music has gone where no South American music can
follow, which is why its music has a worldwide following.
Luciana’s Souza’s latest album, Tide, which
includes original material co-written with Larry Klein, was released
in May of 2009. The recording did not include Lubambo, with whom,
nonetheless, she tours. Could it be that recognizing their very
special chemistry and natural affinity to all things and sounds
Brazilian, she made us the beneficiaries of an admitted easier
said than done career decision made in the face of label and marketing
pressure? If yes, that defiance does her proud and plays even
better with her audiences. May this dynamic duo return soon to