If you haven’t heard of Claudia Villela yet, this is an excellent disc to make her acquaintance. And if you’ve heard her before, then you’ll find that this is probably the best you’ve ever heard from her. Period. The repertoire on Encantada is culled from several live performances across the United States and showcases her magnificent vocal gifts in the grand manner both tonally and technically as well. It has a cracking opener; a (relatively) short song, “Cuscus”, which features the incomparable guitarist Bruce Dunlap and is a stunning improvisational foray into the realm of music. It immediately sets the tone for the magical agility of Miss Villela’s voice that ranges, majestically, from depths the likes of which many a contralto would die to plunge to rarefied highs in the soprano range. The interpretation of Sonny Rollins’ “St Thomas” included therein is quite breathtaking. She repeats this kind of extraordinary vocalastics on “Cumeno com Cuentro” and “Em Paz” performance as well.
The rest of the repertoire is a sparkling, action-packed affair – especially in the wordless vocals, seamlessly voiced by Miss Vilella, often fused into percussion that appears to be issued by palette, nose and throat. The singer brings her skills to bear on all of the music often interacting with members of her quartet – especially the astonishingly fine guitar playing by both Ricardo Peixoto (alone and with the quartet) and Jeff Buenz. In each configuration, the two provide an element of risky exuberance and high drama. The experience is unforgettable on “Negra” (Jeff Buenz) and Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas #5” (Mr Peixoto). But make no mistake, Miss Villela shines in every instance. The improvisation that incorporates a long improvisation on Milton Nascimento’s music is one of the high-points of the recording.
The other members of the quartet are both poised and rhapsodic. This is led by the lapidary ornamentation of Jasman Daya Singh’s pianism and, of course, the wonderfully jubilant accompaniment of the rhythmists – the late Paul Van Wageningen, percussion colourist Michael Spiro and, of course the bassist Gary Brown, with the most stylish soloing by saxophonist Andy Connel. Miss Villela is also featured on the intensely meditative “Minas” with the ineffably brilliant pianist Kenny Werner and the great Celso Alberti appears on “Jangada”.
Another important aspect of this recording is the profoundly beautiful music of Miss Villela, sung with a superb sense of freedom. It is also music that springs from a deeply personalised Brasilian landscape, which, in turn, mixes beauty and danger, and evokes the elemental sounds of birds and animals, and as in “Minas” renders the immutable aspect to the sky and the slow, solemn motion of the clouds, fading away in grey tones lightly tinged with blue and white. Encantada is a brilliant account of Miss Villela’s musicality in all its quirky modernisms and angularity that comes alive through a mixture of her uncommon precision and flexibility.
Track list – 1: Cuscus; 2: Viola Fora de Moda; 3: Negra; 4: Taina; 5: Bachianas Brasileiras, No. 5; 6: Jangada; 7: Minas; 8: Cumeno Com Cuentro; 9: Em Paz
Personnel – Claudia Villela: voice and percussion; Jasnam Daya Singh: piano and keyboard (2, 4, 8); Ricardo Peixoto: guitars (2, 4, 5, 8); Gary Brown: bass (2, 4, 6, 8); Paul Van Wageningen: drums (2, 4, 8); Andy Connel: saxophone (2, 4, 8); Michael Spiro: percussion (2, 4, 8); Bruce Dunlap: guitar (1, 9); Jeff Buenz: guitar (3, 6); Celso Alberti: drums (6); Kenny Werner: piano (7)
Released – 2019
Label – Taina Music
Runtime – 1:18:47