When pianist Herbie Hancock released The New Standard
(Verve, 1996)an album of radically reworked pop tunes by artists ranging from Peter Gabriel to Princeit wasn't exactly revolutionary, but it was
the first time a major jazz artist had devoted an entire album to contemporary popular song. Singer Luciana Souza may not be as significant an artistyetas Hancock, but The New Bossa Nova
explores a similar concept. By adapting material, ranging from Joni Mitchell and James Taylor to Leonard Cohen and Randy Newman, to the Brazilian bossa nova form, Souza has created a deeply heartfelt disc that deserves to raise her profile exponentially.
With the stellar group of players she's recruitedmany of whom she's intersected with multiple times over the past few years, including saxophonist Chris Potter, pianist Edward Simon, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Antonio Sanchezone might expect some high energy and extended improvisation, but The New Bossa Nova is, instead, an album of understatement, concision and simplicity. While no strangers to the aesthetic of serving the song, principle soloists Simon and Potter work within producer Larry Klein's defined, but never confining, arrangements. Sometimes saying something in eight bars is more challenging than having all the time in the world, and both Potter and Simon deliver memorable, lyrical solos throughout.
While the bossa form is inherently easy on the ears, Souza has chosen material that covers a broad emotional range, a subtext of the album being the complexity and multifaceted nature of love. Souza's voice is warm and soft, with a controlled but rich vibrato that's not unlike that of iconic singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, whose "Down to You, from the classic Court and Spark (Asylum, 1974), opens the disc. The vibe may be soft, but Souza's delivery gets to the core of Mitchell's despondent lyrics. Her mellifluous voice is a considerable contrast to Leonard Cohen's near-spoken delivery, but she's no less at the heart of his starkly dark "Here It Is.
The New Bossa Nova is not, however, all about darkness and despair. A duet with guest James Taylor on his poignant "Never Die Young reveals just how lush Souza's voice is contrasted with Taylor's sharp tenor, while she reworks Antonio Carlos Jobim's classic "Waters of March into an uplifting set closer.
Like Swiss singer Susanne Abbuehl, Souza's range and emotional resonance are made all the more powerful for her avoidance of overstatement. With words as potent as these, nuance trumps excess, and while the bossa rhythm is the essence of The New Bossa Nova, there's plenty of diversity to keep things interesting, even as Souza and the group explore shades of a color rather than a broader spectrum. With the emphasis on The New, it's an accessible album that's got the potential to make Souza a popular name like Krall and Jones, but remains no less substantial for it.
Down to You; Never Die Young; Here It Is; When We Dance; Satellite; Were You Blind That Day; Love is for Strangers; You and the Girl; Living Without You; I Can
Luciana Souza: vocals; James Taylor: vocals (2); Chris Potter: tenor saxophone; Romero Lubambo: guitar, cavaquinho; Edward Simon: piano, estey; Scott Colley: bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums, percussion; Matt Moran: vibraphone (1, 6-8).