Belezas, by Album Of The Week (Latin Jazz Corner)

Serious jazz musicians have many aspects to their job; besides the obvious acts of recording and performing music, it’s essential that they continually discover, explore, and interpret amazing music. They obviously need to fully digest the standards in their field, whether its a straight ahead jazz musician becoming intimately familiar with the Great American songbook or a Brazilian Jazz musician learning Antonio Carlos Jobim’s compositions. The connection to standards is a given though; an evolving musician need to go beyond the well known standards in their genre and find beautiful music that touches their artistry. This may require them to research other genres, dig deep into the work of specific composers, or simply look around them and hear the sounds of popular culture. Stretching their repertoire in this fashion forces an artist to look beyond the things that history tells them about music and reflect upon the things that actually touch them about music. It’s less of a direction change in their musical direction and more of an expansion of their personal artistic identity. Ideally, they’ll learn the new music that discover on a fairly deep level, and then they’ll find a way to incorporate it into their prior knowledge. The result will provide a distinctly different perspective on their musical interests; it will also push their personal musical expressions into new directions that will challenge and invigorate their artistry. Already a well respected interpreter of Brazilian song and jazz, vocalist Carol Saboya wraps her experience around the music of Brazilian MPB song writers Milton Nascimento and Ivan Lins on Belezas, providing a fresh and inspiring look at their body of work.

Different Musical Perspectives Upon Nascimento
Saboya wraps a variety of musical shadings around Nascimento’s work that provide a number of different perspectives upon the composer. Subtle hints of rhythmic vitality come together into a full blown baião on “Bola de Meia, Bola de Gude," until Saboya entered with the clever and twisting melody. The lyrics nimbly bounce off of Saboya’s tongue with a lightly playful energy, navigating the rhythmic complexity of the melody with a deft skill. The rhythm section smoothly shifts key centers as guitarist Claudio Spiewak delivers an engaging lyrical solo which flows into a lively restatement of the melody from Saboya. The rhythm section engages in a foreboding vamp over a three beat Guarania mineira rhythm to open “Tristesse," setting the stage for a moody atmosphere. Saboya sets a stormy and introspective tone to the lyric, which thoughtfully moves over a set of complex harmonic changes and pushes the band into a quiet frenzy. Guest saxophonist Dave Liebman flies over the chord changes with a focused intensity, tearing through his solo with a cutting tone from his soprano sax and a fiercely passionate selection of notes. Bassist Jorge Helder sets up a powerful 3/4 Afoxé groove, complimented by entwining choral passages from Adolfo and Spiewak on “Beleza e Cançao," providing a solid foundation for Saboya’s vocal. The lyric winds tightly around the rhythmic feel, sharply defined by Saboya’s expert vocal that resonates with accents and specific phrasing. Both Adolfo and Spiewak dive headfirst into energetic solos that sparkle with a vital connection to the rhythm section’s crisp and interactive feel as well the song’s rich harmonic structure. Percussionist Rafael Barata inserts an elegant simplicity into his sparse rhythmic introduction on “Anima," gently setting the tone for the song. Saboya develops the melody with an engaging sensitivity that infuses the flowing melody with an undeniable sense of beauty and importance. There’s an understated mastery in Saboya’s work here that shows both a respect for the composition and a carefully placed personal touch, delivered with a commanding presence. Liebman’s tenor sax flies over a sparse ballad background on “Tarde (Evening)," until Saboya gently finds her way into the lush melody. There’s a reflective quality to the song that Saboya captures with a refined grace, contemplating each piece of the lyric with a respectful confidence. Liebman’s sax comments upon the melody explode into a sensitive solo that skillfully builds into a stormy flurry of notes, injecting a passionate perspective on the song. A charging bass line from Helder sends the group into an uptempo swing on “Três Pontas (Três Pontas Town)," that infuses the song with an addictively energetic propulsion. Saboya grabs the overall feel of the group’s rhythmic drive with smart placement of the sparse melody’s notes. Spiewak entered into his improvisation with an understated introduction before bursting into a collection of quick runs and intensive ideas that push the band into a fierce investment in the groove. The performances from Saboya and her group reveal Nascimento’s music to be a rich source of inspiration that comes to life from diverse jazz perspectives.

Balancing Music From Lins With A Jazz Sensibility
Saboya performs a number of Lins tunes, balancing traditional Portuguese lyrics and a pop undertone with a jazz sensibility. A composed melodic call and response between the rhythm section leads powerfully into a strong chorus from Saboya on “Abre Alas (Open The Way)," thickened with overdubbed layers of vocals that add a pop edge. Saboya guides the band through the song’s defined form, weaving through a verse/chorus structure that includes a gorgeous rise and fall to the melody as well as some interesting instrumental interludes. As the group reaches the end of the song, Saboya brings the lyric to an end and provides some room for both Adolfo and Spiewak to improvise briefly through the changes. A short and flowing improvisation from Spiewak’s acoustic guitar over arpeggiated chords from Adolfo leads gently into Saboya’s lyrics on “Velas Içads." The vocalist quietly demands attention with a heartfelt performance that artfully plays upon the staggered entrance of the band members. The rhythm section moves out of the background as Spiewak soars into a solo that skillfully balances the jazz flavor of the chord changes and the lyrical nature of the melody. There’s an equal balance of Lins’ beautiful melodic construction, his pop edge, and Saboya’s jazz background that give a unique flavor to these tracks.

Interpreting Music From Lins With English Lyrics
Saboya re-contextualizes several pieces from Lins with lyrics in English, adding a different edge to composer’s work. The rhythm section establishes a unobtrusively grooving three beat Guarania on “Who Is In Love Here (A Noite)," allowing Saboya to float a lush vocal over the beautiful harmonies. Pianist Antonio Adolfo constructs a thoughtful statement that references the melody while exploring the harmony with a defined jazz edge. As Saboya returns into the main lyric, she approaches it from a slightly different direction, eventually giving space for Adolfo to build into a series of riffs. Spiewak improvises briefly over a swaying rhythm on “Soberana Rosa (She Walks This Earth)" before Saboya winds an English around a highly arranged series of breaks and groove. An instrumental interlude leads into a Portuguese interpretation of the lyrics that resonates with a driven rhythmic feel both from Saboya and the rhythm section, pushing the song to a higher dynamic. As the band continues pushing forward, Spiewak leaps into a gorgeously constructed improvisation, filled with an intuitive lyrical shape that beautifully compliments the song. Guest harmonica player Hendrik Meurkens delicately wraps a sparse melodic line around the introduction to “Doce Presença," opening into a quietly supportive foundation from the rhythm section. Saboya thrives upon the open setting, approaching the lyric with a gentle whisper, injecting a reflective personality into a melody that alternates between simple beauty and chromatic complexity. Meurkens grabs a cue from Saboya, delivering a wonderful statement that pulls upon the inherent beauty of the song’s chords that provides the perfect statement to Saboya’s vocal. There’s a mesmerizing beauty to Saboya’s performance on “Estrela Guia (Oh, Shining Star)," as the pure tone of her voice and her smart phrasing shine over Adolfo’s solo piano accompaniment. As the full rhythm section joins Saboya, she guides the group to a higher dynamic at her own pace, letting the commanding quality of her voice structure the affair. The depth of Saboya’s mastery appears clearly on this track as she seamlessly segues between English and Portuguese lyrics, acting both as a unique interpreter and a source of inspiration for the rhythm section. The ability to move between languages and musical aesthetics while keeping the soul of Lins’ music in tact shows the care and thought that Saboya invested in the project.

An Inspiring Perspective Upon Nascimento And Lins
Saboya delivers an inspiring perspective on the music of Nascimento and Lins throughout Belezas that speaks volumes about their importance in the overall world of Brazilian music and Saboya’s maturity as an artist. Her performance reveals an intimate familiarity with both composers that allows her to capture the original spirit of their music with an assured comfort. Her vocals feel simultaneously natural and refined, with thoughtfully executed phasing and dynamic shifts that keep the album interesting and engaging. At every turn, Saboya puts her own stamp upon the work of Nascimento and Lins by looking at the music through a more focused jazz lens. While both of these composers certainly included a jazz influence in their work, their compositions sat more in the realm of MPB; Saboya and her group inject a freedom and more advanced harmonic colors into the songs. Some of the credit for the carefully crafted interpretations goes to pianist, producer, and arranger Adolfo, who puts his distinctive touch upon the album with intelligent construction of diverse Brazilian grooves, jazz colors, and structural ideas. In many ways, the experience that informs Adolfo’s arrangements and performance serves as a rich connection between Saboya’s smart performance and the historical importance of the composers. Spiewak, Helder, and Barata provide a perfect foundation for this look at the music of Nascimento and Lins that resonates with energetic Brazilian rhythms, jazz subtlety, textural diversity, and improvisational interaction. The appearance of Liebman and Meurkens add a wonderful touch to the recording, allowing a variety of musicians to enter the commentary upon these important composers. Saboya emerges as a strong bandleader, a commanding vocalist, and an important interpreter of Brazilian music on Belezas, bringing our attention to the vast work of Nascimento and Lins through her wonderful musicianship.