Ithamara Koorax: Ithamara Koorax: Bim Bom - The Complete Joao Gilberto Songbook

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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Ithamara Koorax
Bim Bom: The Complete João Gilberto Songbook
Motema Records

Joao Gilberto did not just epitomize bossa nova, "The New Thing" that he virtually invented, but he also brought his new, laconic vocal style to Brazilian music. So deeply passionate and idiosyncratic was his pronounciation and intonation that he could wail and groan with equal lyricism. Pitch did not seem to matter as mood and emotion often took precedence over all other considerations. This was always the highlight of a João Gilberto performance—whether live or on carefully produced studio recordings.

Bim Bom: The Complete João Gilberto Songbook is an affectionate tribute to the maestro from a younger Brazilian vocalist, Ithamara Koorax. The singer is a perfect foil for Gilberto's singing style, yet one who captures the floating lyricism of his music while herself soaring vocally like a thrush in a swirling thermal wind. She is accompanied by Juarez Moreira, a guitar stylist whose fingers fly exquisitely across the strings to replicate the sound of a broader string section. Moreira is also so skilled that he recreates the crisp accompaniment that Gilberto often provided himself.

Koorax has a voice that soars with celestial grace. It floats and sways as if nudged by a heavenly breeze. Koorax's vocals can sometimes flip and flop and tumble like a bird in flight. She has complete control over her breath, letting it slip like a flute through her lips. At other times, she may choose to reach deep beyond the bottom of her lungs and in to her guts, to draw great gusts of air, which she will then fill with lyrical swirls and stutters as she forms the words of the songs. Thus the lyrics melt in the heat that caresses them, uttering phrases and memorable sentences that pierce like arrows into the heart.

Koorax becomes each song that she sings in wonderous tribute to the maestro, Gilberto. She is a puckish child playing with words on "Bim Bom." Koorax becomes all sensuous as she strikes a pose on "Hô-Bá-Lá-Lá" and on the lustrous, "Minha Saudade." On "Você Esteve Com Meu Bem" Koorax recalls every great vocalist who ever covered this song, from Carmen Miranda to Mariza to Caetano Veloso. "Bebel" is a superbly crafted, affectionate waltz for Gilberto's talented daughter, Bebel Gilberto. Ithamara Koorax has made this a slow burning torch song, so graceful that it glows like molten metal running through her perfect throat. In addition, on and on she goes waxing and waning like a perfect lunar apparition.

The baiao rhythm of "Undiu" is hypnotic and Koorax herself delivers this in a trance-like mode. The Mexican-inflected "João Marcello" and "Acapulco" are completely surreal in that they capture the blazing heat of the barrio but are softened by the temperate strumming of a Brasilian guitar. It is impossible not to notice the superb guitar work by Moreira, which is understated at the best of times, always subordinate and supportive of the voice of Koorax. However, every once in a while he too soars above the music. Naturally, therefore the project could not conclude without a showcase of his skills. "Um Abraço No Bonfa" is just that vehicle for the guitarist to sparkle as it he were a whole string section at times.

To view this record merely as a tribute to Gilberto would be to diminish the superb vocals of Ithamara Koorax and the dexeterity of Juarez Moriera on guitar. Still with complete modesty, they offer this wonderful music in praise of the legendary Brazilian who ought to have been better known decades ago.

Tracks: Bim Bom; Hô-Bá-Lá-Lá Coisas Distante (Forgotten Places); Minha Saudade; Você Esteve Com Meu Bem; Valsa (Bebel); (Um Abraço No Bonfâ (An Embrace to Bonfâ); No Coreto (Glass Beads); João Marcello; Undiu; Acapulco; Hà-Bá-Lá-Lá (Alternate Take/English Lyrics).

Personnel: Ithamara Koorax: voice; Juarez Moreira: electric and acoustic guitars.


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