Tania Maria / Tania Maria & the Viva Brazil Quartet

Live at the Blue Note

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Most albums by Brazilian female vocalists follow the styles of the queens of the music, like Astrud Gilberto or Gal Costa, making records that are either smoothly romantic or rhythmically kinetic. On 2002's Live at the Blue Note, Tânia Maria delivers an impressive set that owes little to either style. Maria's band, the Viva Brazil Quartet, owes at least as much to hard boppers like the early-'60s Miles Davis group as it does to Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Maria's idiosyncratic, highly percussive keyboard style is much more Cecil Taylor than Walter Wanderley. The recording is rather oddly mixed, with Maria's piano and synthesizer in the forefront, her equally distinctive vocals much farther back, and Carlos Werneck's guitar and bass sometimes barely audible, but the performances are uniformly first-rate. Maria sings in both English and Portuguese, sometimes switching mid-song, but at her most transcendent, Maria breaks into wordless flights of sound, as on the exhilarating "Granada" and the whistled choruses of the ballad "Valen." At these moments, the occasionally herky-jerky rhythms and fractured melodies coalesce into something magical. Live at the Blue Note may be a bit advanced for those who are just looking for some romantic bossa nova music, but it's an excellent starting point for discovering Tânia Maria.

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