Any American who is seriously into Brazilian music knows that he/she cannot rely on U.S. labels alone; it is important to look for CDs that come out on Brazilian labels but make it to the U.S. as imports. Ithamara Koorax is a perfect example of a Brazilian pop-jazz vocalist who was well-known in Brazil before she had any North American releases. Although she didn't have anything out in the U.S. until Fantasy licensed Serenade in Blue from Brazil's Jazz Station label in 2000, she had provided several excellent albums for Brazilian and Japanese labels in the '90s. One of them was 1995's Rio Vermelho, which came out on Imagem in Brazil and Paddle Wheel in Japan. Emphasizing ballads, this pop-jazz effort is a fine example of Brazilian torch singing -- Rio Vermelho is mood music with a very Rio de Janeiro-ish sound. Rio de Janeiro, in fact, is where percussionist/arranger Arnaldo DeSouteiro produced this CD. Saying that Rio Vermelho is mood music isn't saying that Koorax's performances should fade into the background quietly -- she brings so much soul, depth, and emotion to the lyrics (most of them in Portuguese) that listeners would be doing themselves a disservice if they didn't turn up the volume and pay very close attention. And all of the songs that Koorax picks are perfect for a torch album, including Antonio Carlos Jobim's "É Preciso Dizer Adeus," the title track (a Milton Nascimento gem), and Arthur Hamilton's "Cry Me a River." The latter is one of only two English-language performances on this CD; the other is Luiz Bonfá's "Empty Glass," which also appears on Koorax's superb Bonfá tribute, Almost in Love: Ithamara Koorax Sings Luiz Bonfá. But whether she is singing in Portuguese or English, Rio Vermelho is a first-rate torch album.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson