NEW YORK (Billboard) - Bossa nova has been in Luciana Souza’s blood since she was a child growing up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in the early ‘60s as the daughter of two of its innovators, Walter Santos and Tereza Sousa.
So, after six critically acclaimed albums where her expansive, homegrown Brazilian musical vocabulary converged with American jazz, the three-time Grammy Award-nominated Los Angeles-based vocalist returns to the wellspring and explores bossa nova from a different slant on “The New Bossa Nova,” produced by her husband, jazz musician Larry Klein, and due August 21.
On her Verve debut, in addition to two original songs, she re-envisions classic pop with the bossa groove, applying her distinctively cool and romantic touch to tunes by Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Sting, Randy Newman, Elliot Smith, Steely Dan and James Taylor, who joins her in a duo setting on his “Never Die Young.”
“These songs aren’t from the Brazilian tradition, but they have amazing melodies and are written by excellent songwriters,” Souza said. “We wanted to make them feel classic, so we played them with the constancy of rhythm and sway to lift the melody, reveal the poetry and color the nuances. Every song sounds like it could have been written as a bossa nova.” As a prime example, she cites the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” which she renders as a gentle prayer.
“The New Bossa Nova” marks the first time Souza has enlisted a producer, and the sessions feature a full-fledged jazz band: tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist Romero Lubambo, pianist Edward Simon, bassist Scott Colley, vibraphonist Matt Moran and drummer Antonio Sanchez. “Larry let me concentrate on singing, and the band serves as a bridge,” Souza said. “They’re all from the jazz tradition, but they also know Brazilian music.”
Souza admits, though, that the improvising could be construed as confining. “Romero doesn’t solo, and Antonio played the brushes for four days, but we all found so much freedom within that limited scope. I wanted to find the essence of each song and bring it to life within the bossa nova parameters.”
And she has no doubt that the CD fits under the jazz umbrella. “Look at the jazz pedigree of the players,” Souza said. “The producer is fully a jazz artist, and the singer has a masters of jazz composition. So, it’s jazz but so much more: Brazilian, pop, smooth jazz, world. I always think of myself onstage as a jazz artist because of the liberty it gives.”
Souza was signed by Universal Jazz France after her successful run at Sunnyside Records. Her first Grammy nomination for best vocal jazz album came in 2003 for her “Brazilian Duos” CD recorded in 2001.
Sunnyside didn’t have international distribution in such hotbed jazz countries as Japan and Germany, and Souza’s Universal deal will open her music to new markets. She plans a full-fledged European tour in November, with dates in Germany, Italy, Spain and England. Prior to that, Universal will feature her in showcases in Madrid, Lisbon and Paris. And in between the two overseas tours, she’ll be playing dates stateside.