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Brazilian, Chilean expand boundaries of Latin jazz

New CDs by Luciana Souza and Claudia Acuna are musical risk-taking at its best.

April 18, 2004|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Latin jazz is generally focused on the Caribbean in general and Cuba in particular. But as a general category, it is far more inclusive. The gifted Colombian saxophonist Justo Almario is correct when he insists that the scope be widened to include the many transformative aspects of the art emerging from Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Spain and Portugal.

This month, two jazz singers from opposite coasts of South America -- Luciana Souza and Claudia Acuna -- are releasing new albums. Each CD is a fascinating example of the out-of-the-box musical risk-taking that often is characteristic of performers who -- perhaps because of their origins -- feel free to stretch beyond the established definitions of their art.

Souza is the daughter of a pair of well-established Brazilian songwriters. Living in the U.S. since the '80s, she is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory, and was nominated for Grammys in 2002 and 2003. Her new album, "Neruda" (Sunnyside), taps into every bit of that background -- intellectually, emotionally and musically.

Souza has worked with poetry before -- notably in her album "The Poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Other Songs" -- but never with quite the inclusive intensity present in this remarkable recording. Using translations of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's verse, with occasional themes by the Andalusian composer Federico Mompou, Souza has created works that reside comfortably in the elusive territory between art song and jazz expressiveness.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 22, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Federico Mompou -- An article in Sunday's Calendar section about a new CD from Latin jazz singer Luciana Souza referred to Federico Mompou as an Andalusian composer. Mompou is Catalonian.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 25, 2004 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Federico Mompou -- An article in last week's Sunday Calendar about a new CD from Latin jazz singer Luciana Souza mistakenly referred to Federico Mompou as an Andalusian composer. Mompou is Catalonian.

The melody lines she has written in pieces such as "Leaning into the Afternoons" ("Inclinado en Las Tardes") and "House" ("Casa") are sensuous and arching, sometimes fiendishly difficult to sing but always superbly intertwined with Neruda's touching poetry. Venezuelan pianist Edward Simon provides exquisite accompaniment.

Acuna came to the U.S. from Chile in the mid-'90s. Her initial recordings juxtaposed two or three Spanish-language songs with American standards. Acuna's new album, "Luna" (MaxJazz), reverses the formula, with two numbers in English and the balance in Spanish.

The recording is a revelatory step forward in Acuna's impressive musicality. Singing in her native language seems to have enhanced her capacity for jazz phrasing and rhythmic articulation in what is far and away her best studio outing.

Her renderings of such diverse numbers as "Tu, Mi Delirio" by Cuban guitarist Cesar Portillo de la Luz; "Chorado" by Brazilian composer Guinga, with Acuna's lyrics; Brazilian pop great Djavan's "Lilas" and "Oceano" (complete with wave-like vocal over-dubbing and seagulls in the distance); and a pair of lovely works by Acuna and pianist Jason Lindner are captivating examples of confident music-making.

Acuna's sound is extraordinary, ranging with ease from whispery intimacy to open-throated passion. And her Spanish articulation is engaging enough to enthrall the listener who doesn't understand a word of the language. But MaxJazz would have done a service for listeners, and brought the performances even closer, by including printed translations.


Capturing the nuances

Other equally intriguing new recordings offer differing views of the broad horizons of Latin jazz and pop.John Pizzarelli


"Bossa Nova" (Telarc)

The real question about this album is why Pizzarelli has taken so long to do a collection of bossa nova tunes. His soft-spoken vocals and masterful guitar playing closely parallel the work of the great bossa nova godfather Joao Gilberto. Although he has flirted with engaging Brazilian rhythms from time to time, this is Pizzarelli's first full-body immersion in the music.

The results are first-rate, in part because Pizzarelli has used bossa nova rhythms in different tempos and styles and applied them to an intriguing range of material. Neither James Taylor's "Your Smiling Face" nor Stephen Sondheim's "I Remember" come quickly to mind as bossa nova candidates, but Pizzarelli gives each an entirely new, utterly appealing musical persona. The Antonio Carlos Jobim classics here -- "The Girl From Ipanema," "One Note Samba," "Desafinado," "Agua de Marcos" -- are even better, with Pizzarelli's empathic blending of the rhythmic lift of jazz and the sweet sensuality of Brazilian music.


Caetano Veloso

"A Foreign Sound" (Nonesuch)

Veloso has been an utterly fearless artist since his involvement with Brazil's Tropicalismo movement of the late '60s triggered his exile to England by the country's ruling dictatorship. His latest venture takes him on a less political but no less adventurous journey into the great American songbook and far beyond. This is Veloso's highly personal tribute, sung in English, to the American songs that helped shape his musical vision.

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