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Vocalist Claudia Villela Showcases Her Profound Songwriting Gifts On 'Cartas Ao Vento,' Due September 8 From Taina Music

Vocalist Claudia Villela Showcases Her Profound Songwriting Gifts On 'Cartas Ao Vento,' Due September 8 From Taina Music

Courtesy Tina Villela

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This is not a jazz album. I wanted everything to be part of the song, to get away from the solo as a virtuoso statement.
—Claudia Villela
Claudia Villela
Vocalist-pianist-composer Claudia Villela basks in the warmth of her hometown of Rio de Janeiro with Cartas ao Vento, set for a September 8 release on her own Taina Music label. When visiting her family last year, the San Francisco Bay Area artist rounded up some of her collaborators from her youth (drummer Marcelo Costa, bassist Jorge Helder) and some of Brazil’s greatest players (guitarists Toninho Horta and Romero Lubambo, multi-reedists Edu Neves and Zé Nogueira, accordionist Vitor Gonçalves) to craft the first album Villela has made on Brazilian soil.

The result is a beautiful, highly disciplined collection of Villela’s originals, with a focus not on individuals’ improvisations but on the leader’s songcraft. “This is not a jazz album,” Villela stresses. “I wanted everything to be part of the song, to get away from the solo as a virtuoso statement.”

That said, Cartas ao Vento (Portuguese for “letters to the wind”) puts Villela’s own virtuoso writing abilities on vivid display. It’s in the soaring melody and wordless vocal break on “Meninando,” the seamless exchange between sweeping flow and rhythmic dance on “Chamego,” the stirring drama of “Instrumento,” and the surprising shapeshifts of “Agua Santa”—also a tour-de-force for Villela as a performer, taking extraordinary turns as both pianist and a cappella vocalist.

But Villela is not the only artist to shine on this album. Three of the pieces were written as settings for the words of great South American poets including Ana Cristina Cesar (“Flores do Mais”), Ramon Palomares (“Paramo”), and Mario Quintana (“Instrumento”). There’s also fine work from the instrumentalists, with the rhythm section of Helder and Costa giving exemplary performances throughout the album and guests such as Lubambo, Neves, and accordionist Vitor Gonçalves adding gorgeous color and deep pathos to Villela’s songs. On the writing side, Adnet also makes splendid contributions with charts for violin, reeds, and even (on “Bolero”) for the obscure but lovely opheicleide (played by Everson Moraes). It’s Villela, however, that brings the magic to Cartas ao Vento.

Claudia Villela was born August 27, 1961 in Rio de Janeiro. She grew up surrounded by music in her grandmother’s home, beginning to make music herself when she was only a year old. She started singing in college festivals around Rio at age 15, and before long found work as a studio musician. She also started performing around the city, while developing a book of original songs featuring her lyrics and music. Initially planning to enroll in medical school, Villela decided to combine her two passions and earned a B.A. in music therapy from the Brazilian Conservatory of Music.

Relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-1980s, Villela quickly immersed herself in the region’s thriving jazz scene, gaining valuable experience with the Down Beat-award winning De Anza College Jazz Singers. She studied with NEA Jazz Master Sheila Jordan and with John Robert Dunlap of the New York Metropolitan Opera before making her recording debut with 1994’s Grammy-nominated Asa Verde.

She has since performed and recorded with such major jazz figures as Michael Brecker, Toots Thielemans, Toninho Horta, and Kenny Werner. She recorded a live performance at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, California, for broadcast on NPR; it was released as Live @ Kuumbwa 2004 in 2013. 2019 saw the appearance of her second live album, Encantada Live (compiled from several of Villela’s illuminating concert performances). Her recordings have included 1998’s Supernova, 2001’s Inverse/Universe, and 2004’s Dreamtales (an improvised duo album with Werner). As only her seventh album in a thirty-year career, Cartas ao Ventostands as a rare but exquisite gem.

Villela’s summer/fall performance schedule kicked off with a sold-out show at Kuumbwa Jazz in Santa Cruz Mon 6/26. It also includes Monterey Jazz Festival, Sun 9/24; and SFJAZZ, San Francisco, Thurs-Sun 11/9-12.

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Album information

Title: Cartas ao Vento | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Taina Music


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