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Joyce, Astronauta: Songs of Elis
Blue Jackel
By Doug Maine

    Astronauta is the talented Brazilian singer-songwriter-guitarist Joyce’s tribute to the late singer Elis Regina. With the benefits of Joyce’s impressive vocal skills and a solid supporting cast that includes top-flight North American jazz players, this recording should finally bring Joyce herself more recognition outside her homeland.
    International fame mostly eluded Regina, one of the most beloved figures in Brazilian music to come to fame in the late-1960’s and 1970’s. With a passionate singing style in contrast to that of low-key bossa nova performers, she was part of the generation that created the amorphous style of music known as MPB (Musica Popular Brasileria), which drew upon a multiplicity of styles, including bossa, samba, regional folk musics, rock n’roll and protest songs.
    As Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha point out in their book The Brazilian Sound (Temple Univ. Press, 1998), MPB songwriters had a "keen ability to combine compelling melodies, rich harmonies, varied rhythms and poetic lyrics. The popular music that they created from the 1960’s through the 1980’s is among the best ever produced by one generation in any country in the world."
    Leading MPB performers like Milton Nascimento, Ivan Lins, Eju Lobo, Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, Djavan, Gilberto Gil and Gal Costa became internationally famous, and many performed and recorded with American jazz musicians. Though she had been the first to record compositions by Lins, Nascimento and others, Regina was just beginning to receive international attention when she died of a drug overdose in 1982.
    Joyce was another young composer whose songs were first recorded and performed by Regina. Now a veteran of the Brazilian music scene, Joyce pays tribute to her late friend with an album mostly of songs associated with Regina, as well as two originals that honor her. It’s a wonderful collaborative effort that doesn’t need artificial enhancements like strings or synthesizers to create music as satisfying to jazz fans as to world music fans charmed by the melodies and rhythms of Brazilian music.
    Her cohorts include the outstanding jazz pianists Mulgrew Miller and Renee Rosnes, tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Rodolfo Storeter, guitarist Romero Lubambo and percussionists Tutty Moreno and Guello, plus singer-guitarist Dori Caymmi, who appears on two songs. Although instrumental solos tend to be fairly brief, the musicians don’t have to hold back either.
    Whether it’s singing fast unison lines with Lovano on "Aquarela do Brasil" or in dialogue with Guello’s tabla (yes, Indian percussion is making inroads into Latin music -- see also recent albums by Gil and Danilo Perez) at the end of "Upa Neguinhol," Joyce’s voice has an effortless, optimistic, pure sound (a graceful sunflower voice," Neil Tesser calls it in his liner notes) that can be moving or exultant, deftly creating shifting rhythms, building tension or expressing pathos or vulnerability.
    The album begins with her original "Samba Pra Elis," which shows the multiple dimensions of Joyce’s talent, including her skill as a guitarist. It ends with Antonio Carlos Jobim’s "Waters of March," sung in English in a duet with Caymmi -- the singers seem to enjoy the rapid wordplay and they sing the quixotic list of items that comprise the lyrics, such as:

A spear, a spike, a point, a nail
a drip, a drop, the end of the tale,
a truckload of bricks
in the soft morning light
the shot of a gun
in the dead of the night

    The title song, "Astronauta," sums up the sentiment that led to the recording. "This song, so delicate and beautiful, is about a woman who went away. It’s how everybody feels about Elis, that she didn’t really die, that she’s somewhere in the air with her voice," says Joyce in the liner notes.
    After listening to Astronauta, you may be compelled to seek out recordings by Elis Regina. But you definitely will want to hear more of Joyce.

Copyright©WWUH: March/April Program Guide, 1999

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