Whatever we think we know about Bossa Nova, it's a malleable thing, a style that has deep roots, a cool experimental spirit, and extendable ambitions. Therein lies the secret message of Vinicius Cantuaria's fascinating album Tucuma (Verve TK; 4636), a powerful but also entrancingly subtle statement by an artist with deep Brazilian roots with feelers open to the influence of his adopted home of New York City.
So, while Cantuaria is well-known for his tunesmithing, for the likes of Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and others, for this song set, he teams up with a list of chance-y and sensitive players that includes past collaborator Arto Lindsay, guitarist-of-choice Bill Frisell, drummer Joey Baron, cellist Erik Friedlander, percussionist Nan Vasconcelos, and saxist Peter Apfelbaum. Add to the list cameos by Laurie Anderson, as vocalist and violinist on "Retirante," and Sean Lennon as bassist on a few songs, and you have a Brazilian album with an unusual, and surprisingly complementary American spin.
The title track itself is a bewitching study, an elegant and mysterious brood over a droning tonality, its simple melody twisting through insinuating violin parts, Frisell's loopy guitar musings, and Baron's pulse. Throughout the album, Cantuaria sings with his characteristic musky understatement, and plays guitar and other instruments, and manages to gently push musical definitions around without losing Bossa's gentle heart.