Brazil is renowned for appreciating the importance of uproarious celebration, but even in a culture organized around Carnaval, Tetel Di Babuya seems determined to be the life of the party. A vocalist, songwriter, and conservatory-trained violinist, she makes a Technicolor first impression with Meet Tetel, an album that zings like a triple espresso.
As the first new artist signed in more than a decade by once-vibrant Arkadia Records, the release also serves as something of a label relaunch, coming 25 years after its first album (pianist Billy Taylor’s The Music Keeps Us Young). If the idea was to lead with youthful energy, mission accomplished. Backed by a top-shelf São Paulo combo featuring Daniel Grajew on piano, accordion, and Rhodes; Nilton Leonarde on bass and guitars; drummer Emilio Martins; and one-man horn section Richard Fermino on tenor sax, trumpet, and trombone, Di Babuya delivers a disparate program of originals that seem tailored to showcase her vivacious musicality.
The album opens with her scat cadenza on “Lullaby of Loveland,” a song that owes little to George Shearing’s near-namesake standard other than a tight rhyme scheme activating an earworm melody. She’s an expert at playing with genre, and not just in jazz/pop tropes. The abject devotional ballad “For One Man Only” could be a Nashville vehicle. Then she turns on a dime with the predatory funk of “Clean Cut.” Is she trying to be everything for everyone, or does she contain multitudes? I’m guessing the latter.
Born Marcela Isabele Venditti Sarudiansky in the northwestern corner of the state of São Paulo, she spent some of her childhood in the Bay Area when her father taught at Stanford University for several years. Her accent doesn’t immediately register as Brazilian, which can accentuate a vaudevillian quality to her music. In short, she’s a hoot.
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