So: Brazilian Essence
Since his arrival in the States from Rio nearly three decades ago, Romero Lubambo has served as a sideman and session hand to the likes of Dianne Reeves, Luciana Souza and numerous others; as a leader in the studio; and as a member of Trio da Paz. But he’s always shined brightest as an unaccompanied solo guitarist. Só: Brazilian Essence is that and nothing more—Lubambo alone, taking it back home—and it sure is delicious.
Lubambo’s virtuosity is absolute; his command of his instrument is total, his execution flawless. But what makes him so engaging is that, although he could simply exploit his skillfulness and be done with it, he’s most decidedly not about that. Unearthing the essence of a melody—understanding the song’s intent and using that as his jump-off point—is his first order of business, and only after he’s comfortable in a song’s skin does he begin to develop and embellish. On the opener, Ary Barroso’s “Aquarela do Brasil,” Lubambo dives in boldly, establishing his approach with elaborate filigrees that tease at flamenco with their dramatic, classically informed flourishes. Meshing his own leads throughout with perfect rhythmic counterpoint, he tosses theatrical flares into the air, calms it all down deftly, and then shoots more fireworks. It’s a tool he employs often on Só, but it’s one that never gets old.
Of Lubambo’s three self-penned tunes (and one dually composed piece), the peaceful, soothing “Song for Kaya” is a highlight, and his nimble touch on the Raksin-Mercer standard “Laura” exposes the song’s intrinsic tenderness. Jobim is represented with a pair, including the oft-interpreted and always welcomed “Insensatez,” given a straightforward, unadorned treatment that downplays its bossa rhythm in order to more openly reveal the heartbreak of the melody.