Based in London since the early 1990s, the Brazilian singer and composer Monica Vasconcelos has an enchanting presence which brings sunshine and good vibes to every stage she graces, even in the cold grey depths of a London winter. And she has a voice to match.
Since 1996, Vasconcelos has released five albums with her nine-piece band Nois and its stripped down cousin, Nois 4. Both line-ups have featured, and made much of the interplay between, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and guitarist Ife Tolentino. Hihas in "high," Vasconcelos preferring the appearance of the shorter, symmetrical spellingis something of a departure.
Released under Vasconcelos' own name, Tolentino is not present on Hih, while Laubrock is heard on only one track. Instead, keyboard player Steve Lodder, a regular Nois nonet colleague, is in effect co-leaderproducing the album, replacing Tolentino's guitar in the backing arrangements, co-writing six of the songs, and taking most of the instrumental solos.
On two tracks, "Out Of The Doldrums" and "Still In The Dark," Hih also features the vocals and co-writing of Robert Wyatt, returning an earlier guest artist favor from Vasconcelos.
The focus on Lodder's keyboards, rather than Tolentino's guitar and its vibrant Brazilian rhythms, brings a more overtly jazz-based flavor to Vasconcelos' music, which sheds a little of its samba-informed character in the process. In an interview in the British press for Hih, Vasconcelos asked, rhetorically, why she would base herself in London if she wanted to work exclusively with Brazilian musicians and Brazilian song forms.
The most Nois-ish track is probably the opener, "Nega Deleite," in which Vasconcelos' guitar is relatively prominent, and which also features some lovely violin from Felipe De Souza. Laubrock, of course, also brings Nois to mind with her bittersweet solo on "Out Of The Doldrums."
Wyatt is an empathetic guest, whose quirky, instantly recognizable voice sits perfectly with the band. On "Still In The Dark," Lodder plays harmonium behind Wyatt's vocals, making the shroomy Canterbury scene resonances even more pronounced.
Hih could be seen as Vasconcelos' attempt to reach out to a wider audience than she has previously enjoyedbut it has as much musical integrity as her Nois albums, and all of her considerable charm.
Personnel: Monica Vasconcelos: vocals, guitar; Steve Lodder: keyboards, piano, harmonium; Dudley Phillips: electric bass, double bass; Adriano Adewale: percussion; Ricardo Mosca: drums (2,6); Dudu Fonseca: drums (4,7); Felipe De Souza: violin (1); Ingrid Laubrock: soprano saxophone (4); Beth Amin: backing vocals (1-3,5,8,12); Robert Wyatt: backing vocals (4,10).