Brazilian jazz is often mystifying and haunting. Masters of the slow, sensuous form are gifted seducers, charming even the most rhythm-challenged among us to sway our hips to a samba or a gentle bossa nova.
Tania Maria is among Brazilian jazz royalty. Her deep, sultry voice has led many music fans to dream of exotic, moonlit beaches strewn with young lovers rocking benignly to the ebb and flow of an ocean caressing their feet. Her newest album, Intimidade, was released as an import last winter and is now available domestically on Blue Note Records.
With Intimidade, Maria flirts subtly with her listeners as she does on many of her previous albums. The difference with this album is in the stripped-down arrangements written especially for the intimate ensemble she’s gathered. Marc Bertraux, Thierry Fanfant and session player extraordinaire Eddie Gomez split acoustic and electric bass duties, and Luis Augusto Cavani and Fabien Haimovici trade off drums. Mestre Carneiro and Julio Goncalves share percussion on each track, and Maria contributes her piano and Fender Rhodes prowess along with her silky smooth vocals.
From the opening title track, Maria and her group convey a sense of being right in your own living room. To feel so a part of the musical carneval created here is intoxicating and at times takes your breath away. Highlights of the album include a “E’ Tao Gostoso Seu Moco,” in which Maria and Gomez share a friendly spoken interchange, the stunning and languid cover of “Besame Mucho,” and “Aye,” which kick starts the album into an energetic orgy of lush tropical sounds.
Intimidade is Maria’s twenty-first album. Few of her predecessors have done as much to expose the magnificent structure of South American jazz music as Maria has, and she brings out the best in traditional and contemporary Brazilian music. But more importantly, Maria continually lets loose her own intense passion. One can’t help but be enthralled by how in touch she is with her own sensuality and sense of play. At times she becomes so intimate with the listener; it can get a tad uncomfortable. Maria easily plays the temptress, but also changes mood disturbingly fast, shedding the teasing pleasantness of her voice and almost retreating into a reflective, nuanced tone. Even though that might put some people off, it is the patent of a truly remarkable stylist.
Tania Maria is a mystical addition to the pantheon of Brazilian jazz artists. She is as recondite as Brazilian music itself, but also portrays all of the immense allure of Brazil. And more than any artist I can think of, her enticing appeal has freed my rhythmically challenged hips to sway to her perfectly crafted songs.