Ceu at The Highline Ballroom

Ernest Barteldes By

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Highline Ballroom
New York City
July 21, 2009

On her first US tour in support of her recently released CD Vagarosa (Six Degrees, 2009), the São Paulo-based singer-songwriter took the stage backed by a solid quartet formed by DJ Marco (sampler, turntables), Zé Nicro (bass), Samuel Fraga (drums) and Guilherme Ribeiro (guitar, keys). The group kicked off with a dreamy psychedelic-funk number that immediately got fans moving, and followed that with another new tune that had a Northeastern Brazilian vibe. Her band had great chemistry together. DJ Marco, Nicro and Fraga formed a tight unit, which allowed Ribeiro to add more texture to the music without leaving any spaces open in the overall sound.

Céu did revisit a handful of tunes from her first disc, such as "Vinheta Quebrante" and "Malemolencia," but most of the set was concentrated on the new disc. She also played a couple of covers, the first of which was "Vista de Jaca," a tune originally recorded by Rio de Janeiro icon Martinho da Vila. Her take on that song was considerably different than the original. While da Vila's version is a straight ahead samba, Céu preferred to take it in a contemporary Brazil-meets-Sly Stone direction. The sole English-language number of the evening was a playful reggae take on the 1961 Ray Charles-Betty Carter collaboration "It Takes Two to Tango."

The room was completely full, an impressive showing considering that despite her Grammy nominations, Céu has not yet become a household name, neither here nor in Brazil. The audience was multi-cultural, and by the end of the set the people standing around the venue's two bars were freely dancing to her infectious mix of funk, reggae and samba.

Two of the best moments of the New York show (which closed her mini-US tour) were the ballad "10 Contados," which featured Ribeiro playing a soft accordion and deftly complementing DJ Marco's soft vocal effects. Also very well received was "Ave Cruz," a song from her first disc that received considerable radio play in Brazil.

It was quite clear that Céu's sound has evolved significantly since her self-titled debut release (Six Degrees, 2005). She has taken her music in a more soulful direction—evidence of this was the contrast that the new songs have with her earlier hits, which had a modern São Paulo samba influence. She has found a truly distinctive voice, and it is just a matter of time until she receives the recognition she deserves.

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