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Jazz Review

Jobim Tribute, Like a Brazilian Breeze

Morelenbaum2/Sakamoto ensemble offers a dazzling interpretation of legendary composer's music.

September 09, 2002|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Why have jazz musicians and singers been so drawn to the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim? For many reasons, all of them valid.

There is, first of all, the marvelous arc of his melodies; add to that the manner in which those melodies are inextricably linked to the sort of lush, chromatically moving harmonies favored by jazz improvisers; and don't forget the undercurrent of bossa nova rhythms--a sophisticated blend of body-moving samba and propulsive jazz swing.

Pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto and cellist Jacques Morelenbaum are uniquely qualified to interpret Jobim's compelling music--the former via his diverse credentials as a genre-crossing performer and composer, the latter as a superb instrumentalist-composer and close personal and professional associate during the last years of Jobim's life.

On Saturday night at the Knitting Factory, their five-piece ensemble, Morelenbaum2/Sakamoto, offered a dazzling tribute to Jobim, displaying an impressive cross-section of the great Brazilian artist's extraordinary body of work. The songs, reaching from such familiar items as "Insensatez" and "Desfinado" to the lesser-heard but no less forceful "Chanson pour Michelle" and "Sabia," were virtually all drawn from the ensemble's just-released CD, "Casa," recorded at Jobim's home studio in Rio.

Most of the pieces were sung with stunning artistry by Paula Morelenbaum (Jacques Morelenbaum's wife), with further accompaniment by guitarist Luiz Brazil and percussionist Marcos Suzano. The vocal passages by Morelenbaum's cool but intensely personal soprano curled intimately around the mostly Portuguese lyrics, enhanced by the subtle movements of her elegant physical presentation.

She was so effective that it was easy to overlook that many of the Jobim tunes were filled with difficult, chromatically moving melody lines, but all were rendered by Morelenbaum with a passionate intelligence that reached into the very heart of the songs.

Sakamoto and Morelenbaum played their well-designed arrangements with consummate ease. Like Brazil and Suzano, they allowed air and space to move freely through the music, producing deceptively complex musical results from a startling economy of notes and rhythms.

It was, in short, an utterly marvelous evening of music-making and a brilliant acknowledgment of Jobim, a composer whose work easily places him in a 20th century pantheon of songwriters embracing such immortal entries as (to name only a few) Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, the Gershwins and Rodgers & Hart.

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