So, on paper, Luciana Souza’s The New Bossa Nova (Verve) would appear to be foolproof. Here’s the esteemed fortysomething Brazilian-born jazz singer, guided by husband Klein, adapting American folk and pop to bossa — Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, even Elliott Smith. But The New Bossa Nova is curiously flat. Is it the material itself that’s inflexible? Listen to Souza’s string of brilliant albums for Sunnyside and she seems capable of making music out of the most unlikely sources, not just her two all-Brazilian duo albums but even her CDs dedicated to the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop and Pablo Neruda — the latter translated into English! When she sings a Brazilian classic like Jobim’s “As Praias Desertas,” it’s all there: the beautiful, natural pitch, the phrasing, the warmth. Her setting of Neruda’s “Casa”/“House” is a kind of literate folk/jazz/art song, freely composed somewhat in the manner of Souza’s Boston contemporary Dominique Eade. On the new album, she seems more hemmed in than liberated by the bossa concept. That bossa beat undulates beneath her on Mitchell’s “Down to You,” but when she sings, “Everything comes and goes/Marked by lovers and styles of clothes,” it just lies there. Mitchell’s self-consciousness goes against the bossa nova grain.
No one deserves success more than Souza, who worked hard in Boston teaching, performing, and getting degrees at Berklee and New England Conservatory before taking the big chance on New York. And in her recent Newport Jazz Festival appearance, she seemed genuine in talking about her love for this American pop from her childhood. (She’s a the Regattabar tonight, August 23.) I hope she reaches the audience she’s looking for with The New Bossa Nova. And I hope that audience discovers the rest of her discography.
LUCIANA SOUZA | Regattabar, Charles Hotel, 1 Bennett St, Cambridge | August 23 | 617.395.7757 | HERBIE HANCOCK, Berklee Performance Center, 136 Mass Ave, Boston | August 25 | 617.747.2261 | RENEE ROSNES | Tanglewood Jazz Festival, 297 West St, Lenox | September 1 | 888.266.1200
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