Is Luciana Souza on the verge of reinventing bossa nova? A careful look at The New Bossa Nova
(Verve, 2007), may well provide the answer to this question, as the Brazilian-born singer aims to present classic pop tunes with a bossa nova feeling. It's a kind of whispering, Luciana says; a whispering in a loud world.
AAJ: What is The New Bossa Nova? Is it imposing the bossa nova rhythm and feeling to major pop songs?
Luciana Souza: What we tried to do with this record, was to utilize the medium of bossa nova to enable listeners to hear the poetry of a cross-section of great songwriters in a new way. Many of the songs that we did have been so imprinted upon people in the context of their original recordings, that the meaning of the poetry can become blurred by the iconic nature of the recordings. We hoped to use the minimalist bossa nova aesthetic to provide a landscape within which the poetry can have a renewed meaning and intensity. Bossa nova is a contemplative medium. Hopefully people will take time out of their busy lives, pour themselves a drink, and dive into these beautiful poems.
AAJ: How did you select the twelve songs to this new album? Was it an easy process?
LS: Larry Klein (who produced the record, and is my husband) and I started with songwriters who had influenced me, such as James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan. The difficulty was to keep the list short. We wanted the collection to represent some of the highpoints in pop songwriting of the last fifty years. We wanted to illustrate the fact that songwriting, at its highest level, is the new poetry.
At the time that it first emerged in Brazil, bossa nova was pop music. Because of the prevalence of bad songwriting in contemporary pop music, people forget that during the emergence of most of the important stylistic innovations in music history, the composers, whether they are Jobim, Beethoven, or Randy Newman, are working in a "popular" medium. We gathered a large group of songs and gradually started eliminating the ones that did not feel right for me to sing.
AAJ: There is a common line to all the songs you picked: they all deal with what you call "the many manifestations of love." What message are you trying to send to the public?
LS: We thought that love would be a great theme to build the song cycle around. It is, after all, the most mysterious and driving theme in our existence as a species. It is the one element in our lives that will always be both a question and an answer. It certainly has always been the most discussed theme in poetry since people began putting words together. What is a more important theme to meditate upon in the world that we live in now?
AAJ: Do you have any favorite songs among them?
LS: Every song is equally important in its own way. They are like twelve views of a picture. There are two newly written songs that were written for this record. One provided the element of jealousy to the picture; the other provided the element of sensual love to it. Each song discusses a different facet of love. Lust, loss, jealousy, nostalgia, friendship, and existential love. We also felt that we needed to include a link to the great Brazilian bossa nova compositions, so we decided to try to find a fresh way of presenting Jobim's great song, "The Waters Of March." This served as both a link to the past and a kind of summation of the discussion of love. It is a masterful song about transcendent love; the kind of ineffable love that we call God.
AAJ: Is it possible to adapt virtually any song to a bossa nova frame?
LS: We searched for songs that could readily be adapted. There were many criteria; the harmonic material, the melody, the scan of the poetry, all of this came into play in feeling how a song could be re-interpreted through the lens of bossa nova. Most of all, we wanted to re-examine songs that could take on a new life in this meditative form.
AAJ: In this album you sing as if you are floating above the songs and almost whispering them. That's a huge contrast with all the noise that comes from the world nowadays...
LS: Most of my recordings have dealt with that somewhat. My love for poetry comes from my need for introspection. Solitude is a necessary part of the artist's life. I think only in silence can I hear my true voice, and perhaps get closer to the essential humanity within me. At this point, it is impossible to shock people, or get them to focus on anything by virtue of it being louder. Quiet is the new loud.
AAJ: What is bossa nova to someone who like you was born amidst it? Is it more than just a musical genre? What is the essence of its aesthetics?
LS: To me, the prevailing characteristic of bossa nova is the meditative quality of the music. In the quietness that is suggested, there is this beautiful space that allows for thought and feeling from the listener and the players. To me, growing up with parents who are bossa nova writers, it meant always trying to sing and play in a way that was connected to my heart. Trying to eliminate the technical ego from the process, and singing and playing from the deepest part of my heart. Trying to defeat the urge that we all have to try to impress.