Perhaps because of her harp, the one word that seems best to describe the music on singer/harpist Cristina Braga’s new album Samba, Jazz and Love is angelic. Her voice is soft and sweet, and if the heavenly seraphim song doesn’t sound like a track from this album, something is amiss in the upper spheres. Put together Braga’s vocals with the trumpet of Jessé Sadoc and Arthur Dutra’s vibraphone in a program of Brazilian music and you’re on a stairway to secular heaven.
For variety, there are some jauntier numbers like “Só Danço Samba” with a real jazz flavor and the album’s last number, “Desde de Que O Samba Ė Samba,” but for Cristina Braga it seems lyricism is always dominant.
While most of the tunes on the set are sung in Portuguese, she does sing Antonio Carlos Jobim’s classic “Desafinado” and two other pieces, the album’s opener “Love Parfait” and the syncopated “Rio Paraiso,” in English. This last is heard in a translation by the singer and her bassist/musical director Ricardo Medeiros.
The harp, horn, vibraphone combination produces some truly ethereal effects. The opening of “Triste de Quem,” the first of the album’s two instrumentals, is electric. Medieiros adds his only bass solo. Jobim’s “Chovendo Na Roseira,” the other instrumental, makes it clear that these are also musicians who can swing when they want to. The interplay between the three is always effective, making these instrumentals some of the highlights of the disc.
If two Jobim compositions aren’t enough for you, you might want to take a look at Mostly Jobim, the new album from singer Annie Kozuch. This is a set of 10 songs, nine of which are from the pen of the Brazilian master. It is Jobim’s music, but it is Jobim-light. The vibe is jazzier.
Kozuch sings some of the songs in English, some in Portuguese, some in both languages. And while her Portuguese versions come across as more authentic than her English, the English translations make the lyrics accessible, not something to be sneezed at.
Her set includes two of the best-known Jobim songs: the ubiquitous “Desafinado,” punctuated by some sweet flute lines from flautist Cecilia Tenconi, and a laid-back, dark take on “The Girl From Ipanema” with an inventive climax. Perhaps the highlight of the album is her plaintive rendition of “How Insensitive/Insensatez.” It is a marvel of restrained passion and includes a fine guitar solo from Sean Harkness. He and Kozuch also work well together on the bossa nova “A Felicidade.”
An electric, swinging version of Marcos Valle’s “So Nice” is the lone outlier on the album and it is a winner. The jazzier the arrangement, the more effective the vocal.