Call it "the people’s alternative concert space," even if it is at a chain store. Many Borders stores host not only touring authors, but also touring singers & players from time to time. Best part is: "it don’t cost nothing." This particular Borders in Chicago, the relatively new uptown store, played host to the outstandingly talented Brazilian singer/guitarist/songwriter Badi Assad, in town for the Chicago World Music Festival.
Ms. Assad is known internationally as an ace acoustic guitarist she shares an album with "guit-masters" Larry Coryell and John Abercrombie, Three Guitars (Chesky), and has a few discs under her own name on the Chesky and Verve labels. She is also a singer but saying/implying "also a singer" is tantamount to saying "Charles Mingus also played piano" or "Sinatra was also known as an actor." Her voice is an instrument -- incredibly flexible, capable of soaring a la Joni Mitchell and Flora Purim and getting sonorous & velvety like Cassandra Wilson and Tim Buckley. In fact, vocally she reminded me a lot of Buckley, the music the late Tim Buckley did in his "folk/jazz" period (the albums Happy/Sad and Live in London 1968). With just voice and acoustic guitar, Ms. Assad held the multi-generational, multi-hued audience in the figurative palm of her hand, performing originals and choice covers from her latest (excellent) disc Verde (Edge/Universal). Other accompaniment was not missed she has a full-bodied, rich-as-coffee-made-right-from-the-Southern Hemisphere-beans, virtually percussive guitar style, and made "mouth percussion" sounds (as she sang!) when a song called for it. Musically, Assad is a "singer/songwriter," albeit one supercharged by jazz and Brazilian and American folk and pop styles it all came together without a hint of pastiche or awkwardness. And her songs were songs, little stories unto themselves, not merely vehicles for improvisation, and sung mostly in Portuguese with one or two in English. Ms. Assad was/is an engaging, unpretentious performer imagine a multikulti Michelle-Shocked who needs to be heard by fans of modern Brazilian music, cultural gatecrashers, non-snobby jazz fans, and devotees of distinctive contemporary songwriting (i.e., Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello, Robin Holcomb, Shawn Colvin). You dig?