By Scott Yanow
The great Brazilian pianist Antonio Adolfo in the brief liner notes draws parallels between Copa Village and the album that he recorded in 1969 Elis & Toots - Aqualera do Brasil. While that set featured singer Elis Regina and harmonica great Toots Thielemans, Copa Village puts the focus on singer Carol Saboya and Hendrik Meurkens, one of the top jazz harmonica players of today. Adolfo has a particular reason to be proud of the results, for Carol Saboya is his daughter.
Carol Saboya, who is 39, has been singing since she was a child. Born and raised in Brazil, she performed in musicals as a teenager and recorded with Sergio Mendes in the United States. Her debut album was 1998’s Danca da voz. The following year she recorded with Antonio Carlos Jobim. In 2012 her father produced her Belezas CD which features her singing songs by Ivan Lins and Milton Nascimento. She has an attractive voice, a basic and direct approach - sticking to the lyrics and the melody - and sings in tune.
Antonio Adolfo’s mother was a violinist in the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra. He began playing piano when he was seven and was a professional musician a decade later. In the 1960s he and his trio worked in Brazil, playing both jazz and bossa-novas. He gained a lot of experience working with singers including Elis Regina, Leny Andrade, Flora Purim and Milton Nascimento. He has had consistent success as a pianist, arranger, composer, educator (he founded and runs his own large music school in Rio) and record producer. He is a tasteful modern jazz pianist who always keeps the melody in mind when he plays.
Hendrik Meurkens was born in Germany. He is equally skilled at both the chromatic harmonica and the vibes. It is not too surprising that on harmonica he was inspired by Toots Thielemans, who - other than the virtuosic Larry Adler who played jazz now and then - was virtually the only jazz harmonica player from the 1950s on. Meurkens studied at Berklee and then spent time in Rio in the early 1980s where he really learned how to play Brazilian music in addition to jazz. He returned to Germany in 1983, worked as a studio musician, and had opportunities to play with touring American jazz musicians including Harry “Sweets" Edison and Buddy Tate. By the early 1990s he had moved to New York and had found his place as Toots Thielemans’ only serious competition on harmonica. With Toots’ recent retirement, Meurkens is at the top of the small field.
On Copa Village, Meurkens and Adolfo get plenty of solo space although the spotlight is mostly on Carol Saboya. She performs five songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim plus six originals written by Adolfo and/or Meurkens; they collaborated on the title cut. Among the highpoints are a slightly modernized treatment of the enduring classic “The Girl From Ipanema," the vocalist’s wordless singing on “Copa Village," her passionate interpretation of the lesser-known Jobim tune “O Boto" and the catchy melodies of Adolfo’s “Pretty World" and Meurkens’ “Show
De Bola." Fans of high-quality bossa-nova singing and playing will find much to like about Copa