Washington, DC-based vocalist Emy Tseng always had music in her life, but it took awhile for her to settle into the role of "Brazilian-based seductress" or "jazz singer." She started on the piano at age four, branched out into singing in high school and continued to explore the vocal arts while knee-deep in academia at Brown University, studying math and physics, and MIT, where she attended graduate school. All the while, Tseng kept on singing, but her focus was on art song and classical techniques. When she moved to New York, the jazz bug finally bit her but good, and that was the end of it. Tseng buckled down and began her life as a jazz vocalist.
Sonho is Tseng's recording debut and it marks her as one to watch in the Brazilian jazz category. She proves her worth through clean, clear and buoyant takes on music by the usual Brazilian composer suspects, like Toninho Horta, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Baden Powell, but she proves to be a standout with three north-of-the-border, English language numbers. The Mamas & The Papas' "California Dreamin'" is stripped of all of its flower power feelings and re-imagined as a sad and lonesome tale, proving to be the record's most affecting number. "Close Your Eyes," an inviting, yet sly pas de deux between Tseng and bassist David Jernigan, and "I Thought About You," with some unobtrusive rhythm guitar and old-school violin work, prove to be equally impressive. While it's hard to tell if this material stands out because of its stylistic dissimilarity to the rest of the album or because of its artistic merits, it stands out nonetheless and makes a strong impression in a subtle manner.
Tseng makes her mark on the English language numbers, but the Brazilian material belongs to her band. Drummer Alejandro Lucini brings a lively energy to the music, guitarists Matvei Sigalov and Rogério Souza add shape and substance to the songs, and Andy Connell's lyrical soprano saxophone and clarinet work bring luster and charm to the proceedings.
Emy Tseng is operating in a fairly crowded arena, with a glut of Brazilian jazz singers operating out there today, but she has the charm, knowledge, technique, and creativity to make her a real contender. Sonho is a step in the right direction for this newcomer talent.
Aquelas Coisas Todas; Deixa; California Dreamin'; Berimbau; Coracao Vagabundo; Brigas Nunca Mais; Heliahthella (Little Sunflower); se Dependesse De Mim; I Thought About You; Na Beira Do Rio; Close Your Eyes.