Karrin Allyson

A Kiss for Brazil



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MUSIC REVIEW BY Katchie Cartwright, All About Jazz


A Kiss for Brazil is Kansas-bred Grammy-nominated singer Karrin Allyson's third release to feature Brazilian music (From Paris to Rio, Concord, 1999; Imagina, Concord, 2008), and her first to showcase Brazilian musicians: Vitor Gonçalves on piano and accordion, Rafael Barata at the drums, plus the acclaimed singer-guitarist and songwriter Rosa Passos. First-call New York-based guitarist Yotam Silberstein and bassist Harvie S complete the group. The album sprang into being spontaneously, in response to a concert Passos had scheduled in New York, Allyson's home base. Allyson contacted Passos—a friend and admirer—and booked studio time with the only real plan being "to document the music." The program she decided upon is mainly bossa nova standards, including Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave," Luiz Bonfa's "Manhã de Carnaval" and Sergio Mendes' "So Many Stars" (lyric by Marilyn and Alan Bergman). Passos sat in for two tunes, "O Grande Amor" (Jobim and Vinicius De Moraes) and Passos' own "Dunas," which form the heart of the project.

"Month of March in Salvador (Dunas)" is easily—unassumingly—the high point. Passos cowrote "Dunas" with the poet Fernando de Oliveira for the album Festa (Velas, 1993). With the help of Barata, Allyson created an excellent new English counterpart to the lyric, which speaks of the many natural wonders of Bah'a at summer's end. Passos sings the Portuguese, Allyson, the English, in a setting that swings gently around Passos' rhythmic guitar, the wispy timbres and luxurious phrasing of the two singers echoing one another as Gonçalves weaves a languid throughline with his accordion. Together, they create an ambiance that is effortlessly appealing and warmly gracious.

American jazz musicians have long been attracted to Brazilian songs, adapting them by (among other things) creating a substantial body of English lyrics that, frankly, tend to fall short of the mark as art and craft, with notable exceptions. Susannah McCorkle, who was fluent in several languages and worked as a translator, wrote sensitive and nuanced English lyrics, some of which can be heard on her Sab'a album (Concord, 1990). Jobim penned powerful English translations of his own words. "Inútil Paisagem" springs to mind first, along with "Águas de Março" and "Triste." With her refreshingly lucid lyric to "Month of March in Salvador," Allyson situates herself among the exceptional few.

"The Island" is Alan and Marilyn Bergman's English version of Ivan Lins' "Começar de Novo," a story unto itself. Lins recounted the song's history in a 2014 social-media post. To encapsulate, he wrote "Começar de Novo [Beginning Again]" in 1979, with his longtime collaborator Vitor Martins. The Globo network had commissioned the piece for the telenovela Malu Mulher (1979-80). Martins' lyric speaks of starting over after a relationship has ended, summoning one's courage, contemplating lessons learned; all themes addressed in the novela. But, as Lins pointed out, there are lines between the lines. In 1979, Brazil was still under military rule, led by President João Figueiredo, a cavalry man who—a year earlier—had publicly expressed a preference for the smell of horses over that of the people ("o cheirinho dos cavalos é melhor do que o cheiro do povo"). When Martins wrote about making a fresh start "without your dominion, without your spurs," he was—indirectly, metaphorically—addressing Figueiredo as well, whose term would drag on for another six years. Working with Martins' lyric, Lins struggled to create music that expressed the whole ball of wax, personal and political. He planned to show it to Elis Regina, but Brazilian popular singer Simone got there first (Som Livre, 1979). It boosted her career and turned out to be his most enduringly popular tune.

"Começar de Novo" has taken on a life of its own since then. In addition to its place as the theme song for Malu Mulher, it served as the soundtrack for a groundbreaking—and much discussed—sex scene in the series, complete with on-screen feminine orgasm. It is this ethos that the Bergmans pursued in writing "The Island," supplanting the Martins lyric with a forthrightly libidinous invitation to tryst on a fantasy island. Allyson sets the scene perfectly, singing seductively and sincerely, with Gonçalves tendering a rhapsodic piano solo over Barata's sizzling cymbals. She ends in a barely audible whisper ("we're almost there"). The performance is charming, but her chops would have allowed her to include the Portuguese lyric as well, for a deeper resonance.

Allyson did not intend for A Kiss for Brazil to be—as she put it—a "deep dive" into Brazilian music, but more "an act of affection" for what it has given her, and for Rosa Passos, her guest artist. Working with Passos was "a breeze," she emphasized, "like a Brazilian breeze on the beach," a warm sentiment that pervades the program.





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