All Around the World represents several milestones for firebrand Brazilian vocalist Ithamara Koorax: It marks her twentieth release as a leader, celebrates the 25th year of her career, and, just like her first official release (Ithamara Koorax Live in Rio [1993, JVC]), All Around the World comes digitally straight from the soundboard, with no overdubs or other studio corrections.
Just as importantly, All Around the World truly embodies the global state of modern jazz. Koorax's band features many contributors from Brazil, including keyboardist Mario Castro-Neves and legendary percussionist Dom Um Romao, and its program features such famous Brazilian composers as Antonio Carlos Jobim ("Agua de Beber") and Marcos Valle ("Black is Beautiful"). But her ensemble also includes musicians from Asia (Japanese bassist Mitsuru K. Natsuka) and Europe (English multi-instrumentalist Mark Peterson and German keyboardist Ursula Lauren), and their repertoire also includes songs by American composers ranging from Richard Rodgers to Herbie Hancock to Jimi Hendrix.
Koorax and company fly directly into "Brazilian Birds/My Favorite Things" with a galloping rhythm from which her voice carves out the words "bites" and "stings" with its sharp and strong edges. Then they jump into the deep end of "Agua de Beber" with an inventive hip-hop arrangement that slows its flow into a very dramatic and dark, nearly theatrical piece; Koorax shreds the second verse with an agonized shriek for life-giving water, and chokes out her closing vocalese as if her parched throat has begun to clench and close up from the unrelenting desert heat.
Koorax's voice luxuriates in the melody of "Butterfly" (written by Hancock and Bennie Maupin to showcase Maupin's soprano sax on The Headhunters' seminal Thrust [1974, Columbia]), arranged to allow all the sweetness and light of her voice to rise up and float, then echo and trail the bass line like a hopeful lover. "Black Is Beautiful" is another showcase for the show-stopping power of her voice, and you can easily hear Patti Labelle sing this song, in this way, in this arrangement.
Her traditional closer, "Mas Que Nada/A Carrocinha Pegou," bounces on hip-hop, Caribbean, and Brazilian rhythms shot through with turntable scratches and vocal loops. Koorax stretches out with animal-like growls and shrieks and cries and whistles, punching toe-to-toe with just drums and percussion in an incredible display of free-flying vocal improvisation.
Koorax has dedicated All Around the World to two keyboardists and two percussionists with whom she frequently performed and recorded, and have recently passed on: Percussionists Gaudencio Thiago de Mello and Jadir de Castro, and keyboard players Rodgers Grant and Jose Roberto Bertrami, who founded Brazilian fusion superpower Azymuth and who performed with the singer for more than two decades.
Brazilian Birds/My Favorite Things; Agua de Beber (Water to Drink); Primavera; Butterfly; Human Nature; Black Is Beautiful; Cala Boca Menino; Brazilian Rhyme/What's Going On; Ela e Carioca (She's a Carioca); A Rã (The Frog); Up From the Skies; Mas Que Nada/A Carrocinha Pegou.
Jay Berliner: guitar; José Roberto Bertrami: keyboards; Mario Castro-Neves: keyboards; Jadir de Castro: congas, percussion; Gaudencio Thiago De Mello: percussion; Eloir De Moares: congas, percussion; Arnaldo DeSouteiro: percussion, producer; Rodgers Grant: keyboards; Manuel Gusmão: bass; Mario Jansen: keyboards; Ithamara Koorax: vocals, percussion; Ursula Lauren: keyboards; Cesar Machado: drums; Hugh McCracken: guitar; Mitsuru K. Natsuka: bass; João Palma: drums, percussion; Mark Peterson: guitar, keyboards; Dom Um Romão: drums, percussion; Enio Santos: bass.
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