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From the Inside Out

Give the Singers Some!

By Published: February 17, 2007

Ithamara Koorax
Brazilian Butterfly

Except for two ballads—the cosmopolitan "Carinhoso, with her Brazilian jazz fusion compatriots Azymuth, and Herbie Hancock's title track—Koorax' ninth album is her most adventurous release. It seems constructed to honor legendary Brazilian vocalist Flora Purim and her husband/bandleader percussionist Airto: This Brazilian Butterfly soars and flutters while multiple percussionists (often as many as four on the same song, Koorax frequently flailing away among them, and primarily led by the late, legendary Dom Um Romão) knit together, pull apart, then reweave hot thick blankets of Brazilian rhythm.

Romão's "Amor Em Jacuma occasions an international jazz jam as Ron Carter's thoroughly upright acoustic bass and Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba's roiling piano set table for a solo helping of meaty trombone from Raul de Souza of Brazil. Pianist Francesco Gazzara lovingly renders Hancock's title tune, especially in his solo, which builds up chords then reconsiders their construction in equal parts musical architecture and alchemy. Koorax' most romantic vocal is breathed as much as sung, and it's hard to imagine many mortals could resist her languid invitation to "Stay awhile..., which just seems to float on air forever, like...a Brazilian butterfly.

The remaining material seems specifically composed and arranged to stress test Koorax' four-octave range. She swings joyously from the framework of Milton Nascimento's "Escravos de Jo, a melodic abstraction, airy and inscrutable—not packed as full but no less complex than Joni Mitchell's Shadows & Light, collaborations with Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius. Her voice soars above the Afro-macumba chant "Lamento Negro and streams bright as dawn to open "Fica Mal Com Deus, then completely changes tone and color by digging into the piece's low notes with the growling fury of a blasting trumpet.

The opening "O Vento and closing "Frenetico drive Koorax' Brazilian journey into outer space: her voice intricately navigates the thorny, shimmering thicket of electric piano and four percussionists on "O Vento and on "Frenetico becomes the background frame for congas, bass drum and cymbal (not her voice) to come to the fore as the lead instruments. Each is an excellent vehicle for discovering and experiencing, then remembering, a remarkable odyssey. Brazilian Butterfly is Koorax' most fertile adventure in exploring the boundaries of contemporary Brazilian vocal music.

Dionne Warwick
My Friends and Me

Primarily known as the soft, supple voice in front of so many classics written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Dionne Warwick here enters the popular "Duets arena by revisiting most of that catalog in the company of other female artists. It took more than "Wishin' and Hopin' to transform this concept into a worthwhile listen (though that song bubbles with Olivia Newton-John's still adorable voice): some solid singing from some surprising, distant corners of the pop realm did.

The project opens and closes with a bow toward Latin music, as Gloria Estefan carries her blues like a burden in "Walk on By while "Do You Know the Way to San Jose receives the most dramatic facelift, transformed by Celia Cruz into a six-minute Latin carnival that explodes with familiar colors and rhythms on piano, percussion, and trombone.

Gladys Knight throws the full power of her gospel/soul background behind "I'll Never Love This Way Again, raising the roof with her final chorus; in contrast, like a seasoned prize fighter, Warwick more discriminately picks her spots in this company, treading wearily yet wisely through the line "A fool will lose tomorrow reaching back for yesterday as if she truly knows it but in economical, almost half-spoken, conversational yet emotive phrasing.

Reba McEntire graces "I Say a Little Prayer with down-home country-gal charm, snapping off her lines as sugary and sharp as a fresh piece of mint chewing gum. The McEntire track is nicely programmed to lead right into "Anyone Who Had a Heart with Wynonna Judd. The set's darkest, most melancholy and perhaps most meaningful track, Judd finds strength through enduring the pain expressed by the lyrics. Wisely, Warwick lets Judd carry most of the emotional and musical weight.

"Close to You (with Mya) and "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head (with Kelis) seem more like pointed lessons, with Warwick demonstrating the difference between simply "giving voice" to a lot of notes and truly singing. Ironically, the one song that Warwick revisits alone on this album full of retrospection is a new version of "Déjà Vu, in which she seems to struggle against instead of float along with its currents.

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