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Ran Blake/Sara Serpa: Camera Obscura

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In her as-yet brief but prolific recording career, vocalist and composer Sara Serpa has balanced two stellar compatriots, alternating between duo projects with pianist Ran Blake and small combo sessions anchored by guitarist André Matos. The Lisbon-born Serpa ranks among the most exciting avant-gardists on the New York scene, and Primavera, her first venture alone with Matos (though special guests accent five of its 14 tracks), takes their shared audacity to breathtaking heights.

Serpa, master of adventurous, wordless excursions, opens with the undulating title track, at once joyous and sinister, then meanders through a trio of Matos compositions, accompanying herself on Fender Rhodes to shape the glorious “Tempo,” teaming with Leo Genovese, on melodica and maraca-like kosikas, across the soaring “Rios” and reuniting with mentor Greg Osby, on soprano sax, for the feral “Choro.” The dense, urgent “Kubana,” one of three Serpa-Matos co-creations, makes way for the nursery-rhyme tenderness of her “Song for a Sister” and peaceful sway of their “O Guardador de Rebanhos.” Her stunning “Nuvem” suggests the escalating loss of childhood innocence, while Matos’ “Gardening” travels heavenward on seraphim wings. Serpa revisits Blake’s “Vanguard” (included on their Camera Obscura from 2010), twining with Matos for a spare, hypnotic reading. In closing, she draws upon a favorite source, the poetry of e.e. cummings, to craft the prayerful “Earth.”

Originally Published