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Luciana Souza: Brazilian Duos

She is the daughter of Walter Santos and Tereza Souza, two seminal figures in the history of Brazilian jazz. Her godfather is the equally esteemed Hermeto Pascoal. She was raised among Brazil’s finest musicians, arrangers and songwriters. She cut her musical teeth at her parents’ landmark Sao Paulo studios. Yet Luciana Souza will be the first to tell you that she is not a Brazilian jazz singer. Instead, she insists, she’s a jazz singer who happens to be blessed with a rich Brazilian heritage. The difference, slight as it may seem, has been critical to Souza’s professional evolution.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in jazz composition at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and her master’s from the New England Conservatory of Music, Souza, determined to avoid the often inescapable constrictions of categorization, launched her vocal career with The Answer to Your Silence, a straightahead assortment of English and Portuguese compositions released in 1999. The following year, she traveled a startlingly different path by setting several of Elizabeth Bishop’s poems to music, providing each with a distinctly appropriate jazz cadence. With two such disparate achievements under her belt, Souza decided it was safe to revisit her roots. The result, Brazilian Duos, sets a new standard for understated vocal elegance.

The CD title, I suspect, is purposefully meant to be perceived two ways. On each of the album’s dozen tracks, Souza is paired with one of three guitar virtuosos – Romero Lubambo, Marco Pereira and her own father. But “duos” also captures the album’s true essence by conveying her respective unions with such exalted Brazilian composers as Luiz Gonzaga, Toninho Horta, Antonio Carlos Jobim and, of course, her parents. (Sadly, neither Milton Nascimento nor Souza herself, despite her considerable songwriting talents, made the cut). Ideally showcased in the sort of spare yet seductive settings that only a single guitar can provide, Souza sings with the crystalline purity of a cool mountain stream. More important, though, she manages, despite a lifetime of headily impressive influences, to eschew impersonation in favor of singularly vibrant interpretation. Shifting from the heartbreaking self-awareness of “Viver de Amor” and jagged romanticism of Jobim and Vincius de Moraes’ “Eu Nao Existo sem Voce” to the spicy sarcasm of “Pra Que Discutir com Madade” and deceptive simplicity of her mother and father’s politically charged “Amanha,” Souza makes all 12 classics uniquely her own.

Fulfilling is too meager a word to describe the overall effect of Brazilian Duos. Instead, to borrow Shelley Duvall’s deliciously faux adjective from Annie Hall, consider Brazilian Duos transplendent.

Originally Published