It’s tempting to describe Claudia Villela as a musician’s musician, considering that some of her most ardent fans and supporters are also her most illustrious colleagues; Pat Metheny has sung Villela’s praises, as have Kenny Werner, Vitor Gonçalves, Béla Fleck, and Jaques Morelenbaum. But it’s a double-edged superlative that implies an artist is better appreciated by her peers than regular listeners, which isn’t the case at all with Villela. The Brazilian-born vocalist, pianist, percussionist, and composer makes music of rare sophistication and beauty, and it’s as a performer that her transcendent gifts are most manifest, whether she’s spinning a new piece on stage with a fellow improviser or elaborating on an intricate setting for her poetic lyrics in Portuguese.
“You give her any musical idea, and Claudia completes it in a way that’s very beautiful,” says guitarist Romero Lubambo, who recently performed several concerts with Villela before recording a forthcoming duo album. “I can play any rhythm or sequence of chords and she’ll be on top of the music, creating a melody that makes sense. There are not a lot of people who can do that, but we did that. We’d just start playing and make the whole song in front of the audience.”