At Seattle’s Jazz Alley, Luciana Souza began and ended her long single set with the Brazilian music that is her birthright and her glory. She also sang several pop-cum-bossa nova songs from her album The New Bossa Nova, but it was the old bossa nova that lifted her performance and lit up the audience. She opened with JoÃ£o Gilberto’s “Adeus AmÃ©rica,” rubbing softly on the head of a tambourine as she sang, Keith Ganz strumming quiet harmonies on his green guitar.
Souza described the nature of the bossa nova. “It is about reverence for the music and the words,” she said. “More is less.” With Ganz’s guitar, Matt Aranoff’s bass and occasionally her wire brushes on a red cardboard box top, she spent an hour-and-a-half demonstrating the esthetic. Following the vivacity and sense of discovery in her Brazilian Duos and Brazilian Duos II, Souza seemed subdued in covers of somber songs by Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, James Taylor, Brian Wilson and others. Still, the perfection of her voice, her impeccable time and the radiance of her personality proscribe dullness.
Crediting Frank Sinatra as a primary influence for “his diction, delivery, maturity,” she sang a slow “You Go To My Head” incorporating rhythmically daring repeated phrases that would have crashed on the shoals of lesser musicianship. Accompanying herself on a thumb piano, she recited Pablo Neruda’s “Sonnet # 49” from her Neruda CD. Souza developed “Sometimes I’m Happy” as an architectonic progression, with only bass accompaniment for the first chorus, bringing in guitar under her voice and introducing melodic variations and wonderfully flexible phrasing in the second, scatting the third, giving Ganz the freedom to play a solo marinated in rich chord substitutions, and ending the final vocal chorus in unison with her accompanists on a tag from Thelonious Monk’s “I Mean You.”
When she returned to the Brazilian repertoire, she energized the club with “So Danco Samba,” including a scat chorus of vocalise, and with “Aguas de Marco.” As an encore, she all but reinvented “Corcovado” with a slow rubato first chorus leading into melodic variations over adventurous reharmonizing by Ganz and Aranoff. She sang it in Portuguese, except for one line of Gene Lees’ famous English lyrics.
Quiet nights of quiet stars,
quiet chords from my guitar
floating on the silence that surrounds us.
A bewitching ending to the evening.