“A stick, a stone/it’s the end of the road/ it’s the rest of a stump/it’s a little alone” Luciana Souza sings, choosing English over her native Portuguese. It’s also the birth language of Antonio Carlos Jobim, the quintessential Brazilian composer and the artist behind the song itself.
Souza has come from writing jingles to becoming a widely recognized artist in the American market. Her songs are finding their way into everything from the Grammys (her latest album, Tide, got a nomination for best jazz vocals, and she was nominated previously in 2002, 2003, and 2005) to the Windows Vista sample music (I kid you not). She’s played with the some of the best artists in both Brazilian and American circles — Guillermo Klein, Romero Lubambo (see “Fahir Atakoglu”), Danilo Perez, John Patitucci (“ditto”), Kenny Werner, and others — but hasn’t let her talent confine her to the ivory tower of experimental jazz. Her work is made for all people, novices and elitist connoisseurs. Her messages are simple, but powerful, and well sung. She takes “cool” and makes it sexy. Her music is wise, but not abstruse. Love can be wise without being complicated, is her message.
Growing up in Sao Paolo, Luciana Souza started early on as a musician, training both in classical and Brazilian jazz, and later coming to study at Berklee. Having covered all that territory — musically, geographically — she’s well equipped to understand and perform within several different styles, and her experience with different types of people informs the “wholeness” of her work. This is a fresh sound that you’d be comfortable showing to your grandmother. But Souza is not just a good performer — she’s a well-versed composer and an interpreter of several traditional poetic works (the eponymous “Tide” is an adaptation of an untitled poem by e. e. cummings). Her full set of abilities allows her to really captivate the audience (rather than forcing the audience to figure her out). She has grace, style, energy, poise. She glides through Portuguese into English into occasional syllabic tones and its all a continuum, executed with the charm of Luciana Souza, the charm of Sao Paolo.
Souza is matched equally by the versatile Romero Lubambo and the effervescent Cyro Baptista. Lubambo, solid as always, complements Luciana perfectly, playing with her and off of her, and bringing the soul of Brazil to the fore. He is quiet and composed on stage, but beneath that, he is the backbone of a very meaningful groove.
Baptista is a bit more flamboyant, dancing around his set and a slew of bizarre, specialized instruments, some of which he made himself. Every beat and tone that Baptista plays seems like a conscious choice, a pointillist wash of individuial sounds and rhythms that reorganize and morph as one listens and re-listens to them. Particularly charming was Baptista’s solo jaunt — Souza and Lubambo left the stage to give him space (musically and spatially, and Baptista has a way of jumping around beyond the confines of his set) — and only after a complete story composed with some very interesting and whimsical percussion toys had finished did they return.
Luciana Souza is an artist to listen for, as much by devoted jazz fans as by listeners who have given up on jazz. Her work is universal, and we can expect her to keep producing more new, beautiful works in the near future.