Luciana Souza says of The New Bossa Nova
“I wanted to make a record that would be accessible yet truthful,” Luciana Souza says of The New Bossa Nova, her seventh album and her Verve debut. “The world is so loud and noisy and overwhelming now that it can be a challenge to get people to sit and listen to something that’s quiet. But I have faith that they will.”
The New Bossa Nova marks an exciting new chapter for the Brazilian-born vocalist and three-time Grammy® nominee, who’s already widely acknowledged as one of jazz’s most respected and accomplished vocalists. The 11-song album finds the artist crafting a fresh and highly personal variation on the beloved bossa nova style, matching Souza’s exquisite, deeply-felt performances with spare, eloquent arrangements that place the emphasis squarely on the songs’ timeless emotional truths.
The New Bossa Nova finds Souza applying her interpretative skills to material drawn from a diverse array of sources, including Joni Mitchell (“Down To You”), Leonard Cohen (“Here It Is”), Sting (“When We Dance”), Elliott Smith (“Satellite”), Steely Dan (“Were You Blind That Day”), Randy Newman (“Living Without You”), Michael McDonald (“I Can Let Go Now”) and legendary bossa nova master Antonio Carlo Jobim (the standard “Waters of March”), along with a pair of memorable new songs written for the project, “You and the Girl,” written by Souza and producer Larry Klein, and “Love Is for Strangers,” by Klein and Steely Dan’s Walter Becker. The set also features a memorable guest appearance by James Taylor, who joins Souza for a soulful duet reading of the Taylor composition “Never Die Young.”
The resulting album confirms Souza’s reputation as both a world-class vocalist and a versatile, consistently adventurous creative force. The project is Souza’s first collaboration with her husband, producer/musician Klein, whose extensive resume encompasses work with artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell, Freddie Hubbard, Peter Gabriel and Wayne Shorter. The New Bossa Nova also features a stellar cast of players including tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist Romero Lubambo, pianist Edward Simon, bassist Scott Colley, vibraphonist Matt Moran and drummer Antonio Sanchez.
“We really wanted to explore the aesthetic of bossa nova,” Souza states. “Because it’s a style that’s 40 years old, we felt it would be nice to re-introduce it to people, but in a different way.
“We also wanted to do songs that represented a cross-section of some of the best songwriters of the later part of the last century. A lot of the songs on this album are songs that I’ve lived with and loved for a very long time, so the idea was to combine bossa nova with the work of these great songwriters whose music is so deeply imprinted into my musical consciousness. Some of my other records combined music and poetry, and to me this is an extension of that, because all of these songwriters are great poets as well as great composers.”
“Another thing that we wanted to do,” she adds, “was to make a record of songs that deal with the different aspects and manifestations and complexities of love—lust and desire and envy and jealousy and pain, and all of the things that make love a universal subject.”
Although she’s worked in a wide array of musical genres, Souza’s connection to bossa nova stretches back to her early life growing up in a musical family in São Paulo, Brazil. Her parents, Walter Santos and Tereza Souza, were influential composers in Brazil’s original bossa nova movement, and went on to run the influential recording studio Nossoestudio and the seminal record label Som da Gente. Luciana launched her performing career at the age of three, singing on a radio commercial, and subsequently cut more than 200 jingles and soundtrack recordings. By her teens, she was established as a first-call studio veteran.
Prior to The New Bossa Nova, Souza released six critically acclaimed albums: An Answer to Your Silence (1999), The Poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Other Songs (2000), Brazilian Duos (2002), North and South (2003) and Neruda (2004) and Duos II (2005). In addition to her three Grammy nominations, she was awarded Female Jazz Singer of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association in 2005, was named Top Rising Star Female Vocalist in Down Beat magazine’s 2004 Critics Poll, and two of her albums have been included in the Top Ten of The New York Times’ year-end critics’ polls.
Souza has performed around the world with small combos and orchestras, and has sung on more than thirty albums by such jazz greats as Danilo Perez, George Garzone, Kenny Wheeler, Steve Kuhn, John Patitucci and Maria Schneider. She spent four years on the faculty of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she had received a bachelor’s degree in jazz composition; she also holds a master’s degree in jazz studies from the New England Conservatory of Music. She also taught for four years at Manhattan School of Music in New York.
In 1996, Souza began successfully crossing over into contemporary classical music, receiving enthusiastic notices for her vocal performances on works by the contemporary classical composer Osvaldo Golijov, which she has performed with orchestras in New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Stuttgart. She’s also performed Manuel de Falla’s “El Amor Brujo” with the Atlanta Symphony and the New York Philharmonic.
Despite her extensive musical history, The New Bossa Nova carries particular personal significance for Souza. “Making this record was an incredible experience,” she says. “It was the first time I’ve ever made a record in more than two days, and the first time I’d ever really had the chance to spend time crafting a record and crafting the sounds and the colors.
“One of the things I loved about this project is that it’s not a record that I could have made on my own,” she continues. “I think it’s a natural evolution from what I’ve been doing all along, but it was also very different and a new challenge. In the past, I’d always produced my own records and been very controlling of my own music. On this one, it was amazing and inspiring to have a collaborator who has so much musical knowledge and music empathy, and who I also love. Larry is remarkable at capturing sounds and capturing the air and space between each instrument. All of a sudden it felt like I could surrender to somebody else’s expertise.
“All of the records I’ve done,” Souza concludes, “have been explorations. Bossa nova is definitely an area that I would love to pursue more, but I look at it as opening another door, as opposed to closing the door on the other things I’ve done before. My next record could be something completely different, but I think that I’d like to live with this music for a while longer.”