Sometimes music discoveries can take the form of happy accidents.
Around 1988 I browsed the stacks at Rose Records, a Chicago chain that carried a vast selection of releases. I had recently heard a female singer on the radio and VH1, an artist who sang Brazilian-influenced jazz. All I remembered was that this performer went by a single name. Finally, I stumbled upon an album entitled Distant Horizon by Kenia. Perfect—it contained Brazilian jazz sung by a single-named jazz vocalist. This had to be the right album!
Subsequently I brought the LP home, placed it on my turntable, and immediately discovered that this was not the same singer I had heard. Later I found out that it was Basia I was looking for, not Kenia. However, Distant Horizon proved to be a delight, a slice of Brazilian jazz performed by a distinctive singer.
The album kicks off with a beautiful version of Stevie Wonder's "Creepin'," enhanced with a slight Latin rhythm. Kenia's subtle voice seamlessly glides over the melody, reminiscent of Astrud Gilberto's intimate, warm tones. Other than Wonder's original, this remains one of my favorite versions. "A Voz do Brasil," sung in Portuguese, picks up the tempo, the intricate percussion adding interest to the track. Another standout cut, the title track allows Kenia to use the lower ranges of her voice to emphasize the lyrics' sensuality. Composer Toninho Horta wrote the song, his trademark guitar permeating the gentle rhythms.
Other standouts include "Shangri-La," which contains tinges of Latin rhythm but stresses its romantic mood. "Secret hideaway, swept and swayed/I touch you," Kenia croons in her quiet, unadorned style. "Oh so close we are both in flames/Embraced in this passion." Among the covers on Distant Horizon is "Acucena," composed by Brazilian jazz legend Ivan Lins. Like "A Voz do Brasil," the song features gorgeous yet complicated Latin percussion, its nuances best appreciated through headphones. In 1988, "Hit or Miss" received some jazz radio airplay, and its ability to straddle world music and jazz suggests its crossover appeal. Once again Kenia demonstrates her varied voice and gift for interpreting lyrics: "I know there’s something more to love/Than hit or miss," she sings, making her vocals slightly flat on the phrase "hit or miss" as if exasperated with her roller coaster affair.