The Brazilian-born, New York City-based singer and composer Nanny Assis is a big talent with a low profile. His elegant blend of jazz and Brazilian music puts one in mind of another similarly inclined and relatively little known stylist, the Berlin-based composer and producer Meeco, well loved in this parish. The work of both musicians is caressing, lyrical and lush; the vibe is mostly sunny but there are dark corners.
Assis and Meeco have arrived at the same destination from opposite directions. Assis' cultural roots are in Brazil's Bahia, where he was born and grew up (that is him on the album cover); he moved to NYC aged thirty, in 1999. Meeco's formative influences were American jazz and European dance music. Assis went on to embrace jazz, Meeco samba and bossa nova.
Rovanio is only Assis' second album under his own name in seventeen years. He approached it in much the same way that Meeco approached his chef d'oeuvres Beauty Of The Night (Connector, 2012) and Souvenirs Of Love (Double Moon, 2014). Both leaders knew very precisely what they wanted to achieve in terms of atmosphere and both were able to secure the collaboration of empathetic musicians with star powers far more glittering than their own. Assis's cohort includes flugelhornist Randy Brecker, pianist Fred Hersch, singer Janis Siegel, saxophonists John Ellis and Lakecia Benjamin and bassist Ron CarterCarter has also worked with Meeco, but then, who has he not worked with? Anyway, the core group is Assis, singing in Portuguese and English and on percussion, guitarist Chico Pinheiro and Carter, who co-composed the opener, "No Agora" (check the YouTube below). Assis's children Laura and Dan are guest vocalists. Recorded in New York in August 2021 and January 2022, before Putin's invasion of Ukraine, three tracks feature overdubs from the St Petersburg Studio Orchestra, a twenty-five-piece string ensemble, recorded in their hometown.
The album includes one samba evergreen, Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Moraes's "Manha De Carnaval." "Insensatez" is not the Antonio Carlos Jobim song but a different one co-written by Morrie Louden and Assis. Most of the other tunes were written or co-written by Assis. The seeming simplicity of the arrangements can be deceptive: Assis' "Amoromisso," for instance, starts in 5/8, moves into 4/4, and then goes into 6/8, but only makes a song and dance about it in a good way.
Rovanio has quiet power and hidden depths, the performances are authentic and the vibe restorative. Obrigado.
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Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz. He was previously the editor of the pioneering magazine Black Music & Jazz Review, and more recently editor of the style / culture / history magazine Jocks & Nerds.