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Interviews

Ithamara Koorax: Celestial Elegance

By Published: September 24, 2012
AAJ: Why do this album, and why do it right now?

IK: I wanted to document the music that I was doing with my road band for the past seven years. Albums like Bim Bom, which was released in 2009 as the first Joao Gilberto Songbook ever recorded, and the two sessions recorded in Europe with the Peter Scharli Trio—Obrigado Dom Um Romao, a 2008 tribute to the legendary drummer/percussionist who recorded with Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra
1915 - 1998
vocalist
, Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett
b.1926
vocalist
, and was a member of Weather Report
Weather Report
Weather Report

band/orchestra
, and O Grande Amor—were conceptual albums, you know what I mean?

Got To Be Real documents a very happy and creative time in my career. Love Dance is beautiful, and I love it, but it was like a torch-song project. Autumn in New York was my standards album, my journey into the Great American Songbook. Got To Be Real mixes everything—jazz standards, pop songs, disco hits, bossa tunes—but all these elements are unified by the sonority we achieved and by the great job that Arnaldo DeSouteiro did arranging and producing the album. Actually, he arranged the songs for my live concerts and made just a few adjustments for these recording sessions. His idea of slowing down the tempo on the disco hits was awesome! He did an especially terrific job on the title track because he transferred the bass line [from the original Cheryl Lynn recording] to the keyboards and transferred the horn riffs to the bass!

Similar things happened on "Never Can Say Goodbye," and one day, during a concert at a jazz festival in Seoul, I added the quote of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" in the very ending, after the band had already stopped. I was so moved, felt so much joy, that this melody just came from my soul to my throat. The audience loved it, and since then I have incorporated that Bach quote to the song. Curiously, "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" was also one of Elis Regina
Elis Regina
Elis Regina
b.1945
vocalist
's favorite songs, and she recorded it on a live album [Show Elis & Miele in 1970] when Bertrami was her keyboardist and arranger. So it was Bertrami's suggestion that we should do this song, too, and then DeSouteiro said we should try it as a duo in a very loose way. Another first take.

AAJ: You had previously recorded "Ho Ba La La." Why did you re-record it for this new album?



IK: This is my favorite Joao Gilberto composition. I sang it in my first professional gig as a leader at the Rio Jazz Club, in January 1990. Bertarmi also loved that tune and had recorded it in one of his albums with Azymuth—Crazy Rhythm, released by Milestone in 1988. I kept singing it on my tours, and then I finally recorded it, in a vocal/guitar duo with Juarez Moreira, for the Joao Gilberto Songbook. But Arnaldo came up with a new arrangement for the trio that features our drummer, Haroldo Jobim, and we simply loved it. If I was under the pressure from a big record label or big management company, they certainly would not allow me to re-record the same song three years later. But since I have complete artistic freedom, complete control of my career, I can do whatever I want. If I like something, and my audience likes it, that's what matters for me.

AAJ: Your voice has a great relationship with the energetic rhythms of "Toque de Cuica" and "My Favorite Things." Would you share your thoughts about these two tracks?

IK: Great and visionary question, because these two songs are loved by crowds all over the world. Back in 2007, when we were playing as the opening act for the Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
-Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
b.1963
trumpet
super group, SF Jazz Collective, at the Funchal Jazz Festival, during a tour of Europe, we opened a concert with "My Favorite Things" and received a standing ovation! OK, maybe the audience was too excited, and the song was a very famous one, popularized among the jazz audience by John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
and others. But then we played "Toque de Cuica" as the second number, sung in Portuguese and with a long intro full of subtle percussion effects before exploding in a samba beat—and we got another standing ovation! That was amazing.

"Toque de Cuica" was co-written in 1976 by Bertrami and bassist Alex Malheiros for Azymuth's 1977 album Aguia Nao Come Mosca. The original title was "Tamborim, Cuica, Ganza, Berimbau," which are the names of four Afro-Brazilian percussion instruments. Three years later, Airto recorded it in a much faster tempo for the Touching You, Touching Me album (Warner Bros., 1979) and used a new title, "Toque de Cuica." During the acid-jazz heyday in Europe and Japan back in the 90s, Airto's version became a huge dance-floor hit. I always loved that song and suggested it to Bertrami, especially because he had told me that his Azymuth colleagues were tired of "Toque de Cuica" because they had played it too many times in their early years. So once again Arnaldo DeSouteiro manifested his genius as an arranger and beautifully recreated the song.


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