Oftentimes, only authenticity will do.Catina DeLuna and a set of brilliant Brazilian and American musicians set about exploring a different kind of album from the usual Jobim standards people are fond of, but have heard about a billion times.
Catina DeLuna and Lado B (Portuguese for the B side) expand the Brazilian jazz repertoire to encompass 20th century music up to modern times. DeLuna herself is Brazilian. Pianist and arranger Otmaro Ruiz came from Venezuela. Between the two, they’ve orchestrated quite an original-sounding, vast selection of modern and modernized Brazilian jazz to sit back and decompress to.
They enlist the help of the Lado B band, including L.A. guitarist Larry Koonse, drummer Aaron Serfaty, and bassist Edwin Livingston, as well as guest artistsNick Mancini (marimba), Bob Sheppard (flute), Alex Acuna (percussion),Clarice Cast (percussion), Mike Shapiro (percussion), and a most emotionally effective choir of angels.
Brazilian Project is the group’s first album, and DeLuna’s second as a bandleader. On this self-produced album out since September 4, the group renders fascinating yet understated, constantly rumbling rhythms from 11 outstanding songs representative of Brazil in its entirety, including works by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Milton Nascimento, Pixinguinha, and Egberto Gismonti.
Did someone say understated? Yes, well, that and effervescent, “O Canto Da Ema.” The short, one-minute-30-second song relies solely on DeLuna’s vocals and body percussion. She holds the steady rhythm literally in her hands, through her breath, and the downward spiral of the lovely native language.
Singing in Portuguese can be a mouthful. Very few Americans can pull it off without sounding as if they need a translator. They tend to stumble over the many syllables unthinkingly, while missing the whole breezy point. DeLuna suffers no such hazard, since she is Brazilian. Therefore, she can devote her time to meaning, the curvature of the characters in the story, the timbre of the mood, from soft and free flowing to sharp and abrupt.
In the romantic “Fotografia,” another Jobim standard, she can become the picture of nostalgic regret, as Ruiz squeezes in accordion to accentuate the place as some far-off, elusive destination, perhaps Paris. Koonse — the perfect romantic foil — follows suit.
In “Lamentos” by Pixinguinha, aka Alfredo da Rocha Viana Jr., DeLuna trips gracefully over the staccato lines of the lyrics and the piano notes tumbling forth. Her own wordless tumbling as pianist Ruiz chases the circus is proof of her authentic voice.
One of the most effective pairings of old and new is “Chovendo Na Roseira,” from Jobim’s “Double Rainbow.” Ooh a choir of angels (“Here comes the rain”) in her vocal fade as the piano-led music projects to the heavens. This one will stay long after the album’s put away.
Not as emotional of a jolt, but equally effective in quieter moments is the two-song opener, “Lavadeira Do Rio – Maracatu.” There’s so much at play here, from the sound of rain on a leisurely day, to the scraping of a percussive break, and into Koonse’s indulgences on guitar with DeLuna’s pomp of piano, both intro’d by a haunting vocal getaway. Lots and lots of textured mood shifts, yet nothing goes to excess or hysteria.
DeLuna and Lado B even cover Jobim’s most famous hit, “The Girl From Ipanema.” Lyrically, the cover fails to surpass the magic novelty of the original sensation that had Americans clamoring for more. But the guitar (and the vocal fade) on this song is all over the feel of the next big thing. The guitar floats and bobs over the gist of the song’s enlightened quotient about a girl, a beach, and their magical attraction.
Besides unobtrusive, sotto-like vocals, and a firm grasp of elusive rhythms, Catina DeLuna plays piano like a dream. The L.A.-based artist is also a voice actress and a teacher, having gotten a Master’s from Northern Illinois University.
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