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Luciana Souza Glows at Kennedy Center

Luciana Souza Luciana Souza
It is easy for a jazz writer to get jaded with the sheer quantity of music he/she is subjected to. Our only hope of salvation is the occasional performance that reaches rare levels of brilliance. So I was especially grateful to hear Luciana Souza and her quartet at the Kennedy Center in May.

Everything seemed to just fall perfectly in place for this performance. It was the last night of a tour to promote Souza's new CD The New Bossa Nova, she was due to fly to Brazil the next day to see her family, and, as was clearly evident, she was about six months pregnant. Result: she was glowing, in great spirits, and totally on, as were the other group members, guitarist Keith Ganz, bassist Matt Aronoff and drummer Dan Reiser.

The New Bossa Nova CD features a diverse program, including compositions by such artists as Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Leonard Cohen, Sting, Steely Dan, Brian Wilson, Randy Newman, and Michael McDonald as well as pieces from the more standard bossa nova repertoire such as Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters of March," along with a pair of originals written for the project by Souza, producer Larry Klein, and Steely Dan's Walter Becker. The resulting album, which includes guest appearances by Taylor, tenor player Chris Potter and guitarist Romero Lubambo, is of high quality, but with something of a smooth commercial sheen. Wisely, Souza did not try to reproduce the feeling of the album; she was working with different players and had a different purpose. She included one or two pieces from the CD, the Jobim, and Wilson's "God Only Knows," but mixed these with more Brazilian fare, the brilliant "Adios America" and "Sorriu Para Mim," and the humorous "El Pato," along with some items from the Great American Songbook, "Down To You," "All Too Soon," and "The Very Thought Of You."

She was a revelation throughout. I have always enjoyed her work, and was impressed by her performance a year or so ago at the Library of Congress, but she is clearly continuing to grow as an artist. Her voice, described by one reviewer as a "richly female, woodwind-like alto," seems to be getting fuller and richer, her intonation is perfect, and her oustanding scatting ability -- a technique familiar to both Brazilian and jazz artists -- was demonstrated on a couple of songs, "Sorriu Para Mim," being one of them, where she executed perfect unison lines with Ganz's guitar. On the slower tunes, her interpretations have great depth and feeling; I don't tear up often but I came close when she sang "God Only Knows."

Her accompanists complimented her with great sensitivity. It is one level of accomplishment to demonstrate personal chops as a player, it is an entirely different thing to be exactly right for the setting; it is called taste, and it is as rare a commodity in music these days as common sense is in daily affairs. Ganz, Aronoff and Resier had it in spades. The items had a considerable range of feeling, from brilliant to touching, even whimsical at times, but the quartet negotiated them all effortlessly and with great artistry, both in accompaniment and as soloists. All of them deserve to be much better known.

This was a very special evening for two or three reasons: it charted the progress of an artist who is taking her place among the most significant vocalists in jazz; it showed just how significant a contribution Brazil has made to the broader tapestry of what we call jazz, not just in repertoire but also in its enormous subtlety in melody, harmony and rhythm; and it demonstrated that as jazz expands, it also deepens as an art form.

As it turns out, this is a bittersweet period for Luciana Souza. While her baby is due in mid-July, I came to know while writing this review that her father, Walter Santos, had passed away May 29th in Sao Paulo. Although he was less well known in this country than Jobim, Jaoa Gilberto and others, Santos was one of the founders of the bossa nova movement. (My obit can be seen at: It is a great loss. We wish Luciana the best.


Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Luciana Souza
  • Concert Date: May 2nd, 2008
  • Subtitle: Last Night of New Bossa Nova Tour
  • Venue: Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
  • City State Country: Washington D.C.
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