Astronauta is the talented
Brazilian singer-songwriter-guitarist Joyces tribute to the late singer Elis Regina.
With the benefits of Joyces 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-1960s and 1970s. 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 nroll 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 1960s through the 1980s 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. Its a wonderful collaborative effort that doesnt 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
dont have to hold back either.
Whether its singing fast unison lines with Lovano on
"Aquarela do Brasil" or in dialogue with Guellos 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," Joyces 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 Joyces talent, including her skill as a guitarist.
It ends with Antonio Carlos Jobims "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. Its how everybody feels about Elis, that she
didnt really die, that shes 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