Some albums arrive without precedent, a world unto themselves. While bringing to mind the sophisticated, jazz-infused post-Tropicalia songs of Brazilian composers like Guinga, Milton Nascimento, and Marcos Valle, Natalie Cressman and Ian Faquini’s unusual duo album Setting Rays of Summer sounds as fresh and revivifying as a clear mountain stream.
A guitarist, vocalist, and composer born in Brasilia and raised since childhood in Berkeley, Calif., Faquini is responsible for the voluptuously shaped compositions and lithe but orchestral guitar work. He also possesses a pleasingly reedy voice that blends artfully with Cressman’s bright, translucent singing. She’s a top-shelf trombonist who’s worked with such diverse artists as Peter Apfelbaum and Phish’s Trey Anastasio, and is utterly at home in MPB (musica popular brasileira), the omnivorous Brazilian movement that emerged out of bossa nova and Tropicalia at the end of the 1960s.
Cressman contributes lyrics to three of the 10 pieces, one in Portuguese and two in English, including the wistful title track that encapsulates the album’s evocation of brief epiphanies, fleeting pleasures, and enduring memories. Iara Ferreira provides the Portuguese lyrics for four songs, including the levitating ballad “Debandada,” rendered as a delicately intertwined duet, and the surging samba “Mandingueira.” Rogerio Santos wrote the lyrics for “Lenga Lenga,” which has an infectious hook worthy of a standard, and the dreamy “Uirapuru,” a lovely sigh of a song. The melody of Faquini’s instrumental piece “Museu Nacional” echoes the exquisite melancholy of Jobim’s “O Amor em Paz,” delivered with burnished intensity by Cressman’s trombone.
Faquini made a vivid first impression with his 2016 debut Metal na Madeira featuring Rio-based vocalist Paula Santoro; that album featured his originals set to an array of Northeastern rhythms. The expert songcraft on display throughout Setting Rays is more than impressive, but what stands out most is the way that trombone, guitar, and two voices conjure a fully realized realm.
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