New York, NY
Telarc Records recently put out a compilation disc honoring the Brazilian songwriter Ivan Lins. Titled A Love Affair, it features some of America’s biggest pop and jazz names, including Sting, Dianne Reeves, Vanessa Williams, and Chaka Khan. Producing and directing the affair is keyboardist Jason Miles, the brains behind Telarc’s recent Weather Report tribute. While the record, and Lins’s music generally, tends toward "smooth jazz" at times, many of the tracks grab you with their irresistible melodic lilt and harmonic movement. Vanessa Williams’s version of "Love Dance" is a knockout, and Dianne Reeves’s delectable "Sweet Presence" is also a keeper. Lins has a gift; that much is undeniable.
When A Love Affair came to the Carnegie Hall stage, Ivan Lins himself was more the focal point. (He sings only one song on the record.) Performing the first half of the show with his touring Brazilian band, Lins played keyboards and sang, his endearingly unpolished voice effortlessly winning over the crowd. After a couple of numbers, Lins brought out his first guest, the rotund and charming singer Ed Motta, who displayed an accessible, R&B-style voice and even did some human beatbox, referencing classic rock bass lines like "In a Gadda Da Vida" and Led Zeppelin’s "Heartbreaker." Leila Pinheiro, the next guest, sang the only non-Lins songs of the evening, beginning with Jobim’s classic "Aguas de Marco." Singing beautifully in Portuguese, Pinheiro and Lins did one duet before yielding the floor to the percussionists, Pirulito and Jaguara, who tried to outdo each other on an assortment of instruments.
Following intermission, Jason Miles and an American band took the stage. Bassist Will Lee led off with a passable vocal on the groovy "She Walks This Earth," which is sung on the album by Sting. Next, Lins played and sang a solo medley, after which the parade of guests started to flow more quickly. Freddy Cole, with his low, throaty voice, was something of a departure for the evening. He was wonderful, but too low in the mix. The curly soprano-wielding Dave Koz, whose hyperactive noodlings whipped the crowd into a frenzy, was the concert’s most wholehearted leap into "smooth jazz" terrain. Vanessa Williams, in a very fluffy pink dress, brought genuine star power to the stage, but her rendering of "Love Dance" was not as inspired as on the record. Following Williams was Brenda Russell, with her fine, unpretentious vocal style. Here was one of the evening’s classiest acts. But soon enough, class went out the window with Peter White, the "smooth jazz" acoustic guitarist. While not as in-your-face as Koz, White’s playing was similarly insubstantial, and he seemed to compensate for the fact by shuffling back and forth across the stage. Then, finally, the moment the crowd had been waiting for: Chaka Khan was introduced. In a brown leather dress and with two backup singers in tow, the diva kicked ass on Lins’s "So Crazy for This Love." All the guests then returned to the stage for a spirited encore, Lins’s "Somos Todos Iquais Nesta Noite."
Lins’s guests drove home an important fact about Lins himself: He’s written some indescribably beautiful songs, but he’s also capable of churning out cheese. An evening like this was bound to contain helpings of both. The unsung hero of the night: nylon-string master Romero Lubambo, whose solos on Freddy Cole’s and Brenda Russell’s numbers were models of tonal subtlety, theoretical depth, and melodic beauty.
Read Don Williamson's CD review of A Love Affair: The Music Of Ivan Lins.