Long established in his native Brazil as a successful recording artist, guitarist Toninho Horta is playing a three-night stand at Le Cafe in Sherman Oaks--closing tonight.
Though best known through his pop-oriented albums, Horta is currently devoting himself primarily to jazz. His companions are two New York jazz musicians, Bruce Scott on drums and Marcus McLaurin on bass.
The mood for this performance was set with an unabashed bow to the North American idiom, segueing from "Summertime" into an extended workout on "Lullaby of Birdland." For the first four tunes, which included Milton Nascimento's elegant "Tarde," Horta played electric guitar. On switching to an acoustic instrument and playing unaccompanied, he seemed more at ease, using gently rolling arpeggios.
Throughout his hourlong set, he sang at unpredictable moments, occasionally in Portuguese (as on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Once I Loved," the title of a recent album), but most often in a wordless style that might be called the Brazilian counterpart of scat.
Playing uptempo tunes is not Horta's forte. In "Isn't It Romantic" there is one note (at bar 16) that is crucial to the melody, but he never seemed quite sure what it was. More characteristic of his personality were the extended versions of "My Funny Valentine," which became a complex, brooding three-part invention, and "Stella by Starlight," with quirky additions and alterations to both melody and harmony.
Several fluent solos by bassist McLaurin added spice to the trio's blend of bossa nova, quasi-classical and jazz elements. Horta's attempt to meet jazz halfway was more than halfway successful.