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JAZZ REVIEW

Cantuaria blends rhythmic energies

August 09, 2003|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

The name Vinicius Cantuaria won't ring bells for many American music fans -- even those with a more than casual interest in Brazilian music. Although two of his songs have been major hits in Brazil, his visibility in this country stems from his reputation for finding a new take on classic bossa nova.

Cantuaria's concert at the Skirball Cultural Center on Thursday night revealed, that he is considerably more than a revivalist. Working with a superb ensemble -- bassist Sergio Brandao, percussionist Nanny Assis, violinist Jenny Scheinman and veteran drummer Paulo Braga (a longtime associate of Antonio Carlos Jobim) -- Cantuaria offered a set that was a masterpiece of contemporary music, regardless of definition.

His current residence in the U.S. has invested his music with a powerful blend of creative elements, heightened by stirring blends of contemporary New York City energies and the rhythmic pulse of Brazil.

Bossa nova did, indeed, surface in the program via tunes such as Jobim's "Ela E Carioca" along with Cantuaria's originals and Gilberto Gil's late '60s rock-inflected hit, "Procissao." And the great magic of the interpretations was the manner in which they maintained the subtle insistence of familiar, guitar-based rhythms while surrounded by galvanizing overlays of complex harmonies and a propulsive, jazz-driven swing.

Cantuaria's voice was the constant centerpiece, moving fluently from soft-toned storytelling to brisk, instrumental-style scat and percussive, vocal interplay with his guitar. Scheinman's violin served as a musical foil, interacting spontaneously with Cantuaria, while the rhythm team maintained a simmering flow of forward momentum. By the time the final song was greeted with a standing ovation, one could only wonder when this engaging artist will receive the widespread notice his art so richly deserves.

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