The Book of Chet
Catching up after a three-year recording hiatus, Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza returns with two albums: the final installment in her Grammy-nominated, voice-and-guitar Duos trilogy and a tribute to Chet Baker, both produced by her husband, Larry Klein.
Duos III is a reunion of sorts, on two fronts. The album marks Souza’s return to the Sunnyside label, which ignited the series a decade ago with Brazilian Duets and released Duos II in 2005; III also reteams her with guitarists Marco Pereira and Romero Lubambo, both featured on the two previous installments. On Brazilian Duos, her third partner was her father, Walter Santos. For Duos II she extended the list to four guitarists, adding Guilherme Monteiro and Swami Jr. This time around, she includes another exemplary countryman, Toninho Horta, whose work as a composer and arranger is as legendary as his playing.
Time away from the studio has done nothing to diminish Souza’s prowess. The power and beauty of her incomparable sound are, if anything, more breathtaking than ever. Souza and Klein’s approach remains unaltered: an all-Brazilian playlist, here favoring Jobim and Gilberto Gil, recorded live in studio with no overdubs or fixes. On each of the previous Duos sessions, Souza performed a Horta composition. Here, with the man himself playing flamenco guitar, she includes two: the haunting “Pedra da Lua,” which also features Horta as Souza’s vocal partner; and the hymn-like “Beijo Partido.”
Horta also propels the peppy opener, “Tim Tim Por Tim Tim,” and gorgeously enhances the hushed beauty of Jobim’s “Inútil Paisagem.” Pereira’s compositional skills are represented too, his ebullient “Dona Lu” high among the album’s standout tracks. Opting for a seven-string guitar, Pereira joins Souza on Jobim’s tender “Chora Coração” and Gil’s sunny “Eu Vim da Bahia.” Lubambo, who shares the most history with Souza, again demonstrates the depth of their marvelous chemistry. Their “Doralice,” taken at jet speed, is feather-light and penny-bright, and their “Dindi,” eider-soft and achingly introspective, is arguably the finest rendition ever recorded.
If Duos III surrounds Souza in Brazilian sun and heat, The Book of Chet takes her to a much darker place. Baker can, much like Billie Holiday, be tricky to explore. There’s always the temptation to allow the tragic aspects of his personal life to color any interpretation. The otherworldliness of Baker’s vocals, his specter-like sense of impermanence, was what made them unique and enduringly affective; but he could also be remarkably insouciant, and often downright sexy, in his readings.
Souza, accompanied by a pianoless trio—guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist David Piltch and drummer/percussionist Jay Bellerose—opts for unilateral glumness. Admittedly, she favors gloomier portions of the Baker playlist, sidestepping such signature hits as “My Funny Valentine,” “There Will Never Be Another You” and “Let’s Get Lost” for the likes of “The Thrill Is Gone,” “He Was Too Good to Me,” “Forgetful” and “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance.” Yet, even when the mood turns brighter—across “Oh, You Crazy Moon,” “The Touch of Your Lips” and “The Very Thought of You”—long shadows persist. Amid such somberness, Souza does, however, deliver stunning readings; she is incapable of anything less. Koonse, Piltch and Bellerose remain low-key throughout, gently cushioning the prevailing disconsolation. This is still a masterful salute, just a very one-sided one.