Badi Assad

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Wonderland Review

by Jeff Tamarkin

One of the most versatile and artistically daring singers and musicians to emerge from Brazil in recent decades, Badi Assad has always kept her admirers on their toes, never giving them a hint of what to expect next. Wonderland, its title inspired by Lewis Carroll's legendary Alice In Wonderland, is no different in that respect: it's full of surprises, both in its luxuriant, floral arrangements and production and its singular conceptual focus on songs that ask why so much in our world has gone just plain wrong, when it would be so simple to flip it over and make it all right. To get her point across, Assad has chosen a number of cover songs taking on uneasy subjects ranging from violence to prejudice to the sometimes futile search for an identity that wears well, among them Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams," Tori Amos' "Black Dove," Vangelis' "One More Kiss, Dear," Asian Dub Foundation's "1000 Mirrors," and pieces by fellow Brazilians such as Lenine, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and others. Assad also contributed material, and in choosing cellist Jacques Morelenbaum, one of the country's most visionary record-makers of the day, to produce, she ensured that her ideas would be taken to fruition with a maximum of creative juices flowing on all sides. Morelenbaum and Assad work closely together to complement the singer's alternately graceful and robust, ever sensual, remarkably flexible jazz-like phrasing with equally bright, sonically rich accompaniments. Bringing in a number of different arrangers, a roomful of both traditional (Brazilian and non-Brazilian) and uncommon instruments (earthenware pitcher, anyone? How about coconuts?), and a couple of guests (Seu Jorge sings on Zé Roberto's "Vacilao"), Badi Assad -- who sings in both Portuguese and English here -- has succeeded in making a poignant statement without resorting to proselytizing. Although it's stacked with layers of sometimes harsh realities, Wonderland is ultimately, in purely musical terms, a hopeful, sunny, simply wonderful record.

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