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The third and final event in the Cantoras Brasileiras series of Duke Performances featured singer Luciana Souza accompanied by a trio of guitar (Keith Ganz), acoustic bass (Matt Aranoff) and drums (Dan Reiser). Souza is from São Paulo, but studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, perhaps the leading spot worldwide to study jazz, and a place where many other Brazilians have passed through. In spite of the strong influence that Brazilian music, particularly bossa nova, has had on American jazz over the last fifty years, the country does not have a jazz culture, and so jazz singer Souza has made her career in the USA, with seven discs as a leader over the last decade (including a particular favorite of mine, Brazilian Duos, from 2002).
Brazil has a tempestuous relationship with those who leave to become successful abroad, beginning with Carmen Miranda, and including Tom Jobim, with Brazilians concerned that their music and musicians will become Americanized. Indeed, Souza’s most recent CD, The New Bossa Nova, for which Duke was the opening date on the tour, has only one Brazilian tune, and that one sung in English. Happily Souza’s evening at Duke was mixed about half-and-half Brazilian and American. She started with a set sandwiching “Adeus America” and “Sorriu para mim,” two sambas associated with the god of the bossa nova, João Gilberto, around two of the American numbers from the CD, James Taylor’s "Never Die Young" and Joni Mitchell’s "Down to You," and at least for these ears Brazil got the best of it, particularly since the American tunes are hardly the best or most representative for those two singer-songwriters. Perhaps the most magical moment was Souza’s atmospheric rendition of “You go to my head,” introduced by a long and pensive solo from Ganz, and creating a timeless melancholy.
Souza has a lovely and beautifully-tuned voice, and on almost every tune contributed some of the best scat-singing I have ever heard, every note in place, rhythm and melody in perfect harmony, trading licks with guitarist Ganz and patterns with drummer Reiser. When she wants to, on a ballad, she can break your heart. The band she brought with her was excellent, with subtle drumming from Reiser (accompanying a singer is a difficult job) and world-class playing from Keith Ganz, who at this writing has one self-produced CD as a leader, but who will certainly soon take his places among the greats like Metheny and Frisell.
Those who may have come looking for Brazilian music were probably disappointed (my Brazilian expat friends, who didn’t like either the American songs nor the American musicians, certainly were). Those with open ears got an entrancing evening of first-rate jazz.