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Short Takes

In movies, plays, music, art, and literature, the Brazilian
culture continues more alive than ever. Brazilians have never bought as
many books as in recent years and there are a number of movies being made
and released right now which deal with Brazilian historical facts and cultural
values. New playwrights have been able to fill up theaters all over the
country and new poets are finding out their own voice and a public to listen
to them.
By Jorge da Silva

With a warm voice that’s instantly recognizable with the smoky warmth
of a Brazilian churrasco, Kenia has returned to the forefront
of Brazilian music in the US with her new album The Ivan Lins Project,
featuring Ivan Lins and husband Jay Ashby.

It’s been a long road back for Kenia, who just a few short years ago,
stood ready to move her career into high gear with a new radio format and
a polished poised sound courtesy of Zebra Records. But the evolution of
"New Age" on the radio dial into smooth jazz soon left Kenia
on the distant horizon, and when Zebra Records folded in the early 1990s,
Kenia looked to pursue a jazzier direction, with only mixed results.

The Ivan Lins Project is the latest chapter in Kenia’s career. Before
moving to the US in 1980, she worked Rio’s nightclub circuit and listened
to a wide variety of pop and jazz artists while developing her own unique
sound. She appeared on trumpeter Claudio Roditi‘s Red on Red
album and also sang on James Taylor‘s memorable "Only a
Dream in Rio" recording.

When I first became interested in Brazilian music nearly ten years ago
now, there wasn’t really that much out there for me to explore, but among
the Astrud Gilberto reissues and Stan Getz classics, I came
across Kenia’s first two albums by accident. The brightly colored artwork
of Initial Thrill caught my eye and her singing captured my imagination.

Carioca (from Rio) by birth, singer by trader, Kenia embodies
the best of the modern Brazilian sound. It’s a romantic cross between pop
and bossa that plays well with the images that only a sunny day or a romantic
night in Rio can conjure up. With The Ivan Lins Project Kenia makes
a welcome return to the style that suits her best, and in a marketplace
filled with many singers bent on following the new Brazilian trend into
street samba and rap, that’s good news for all of us.

The Ivan Lins Project is a collection of songs penned by the
famous songwriter, and while this has been done before, it rarely has been
done so well. One of the major reasons for this is Kenia’s affinity with
Lins’ music. Both are well suited for each other in ways that recall Antônio
Carlos Jobim
and João Gilberto. Making this point almost
overstates the obvious, but it’s a point well worth repeating, if for no
other reason that, while Lins is widely regarded as one of the world’s
best pop composers, his recordings can vary from brilliant to middle of
the road.

Kenia’s interpretation of Lins is what sets this album apart from every
other Lins’ project since Mark Murphy‘s 1986 Night Mood album.
Both albums share the same approach to artistic success: unmatched enthusiasm
for the material and a unique style that compliments both the lyrics and
the melody. On Kenia’s album, Ivan appears as a special guest on two tracks
"Even You & I" and "Closer to Me," both with English
lyrics. All 13 songs shine in brilliant contrast: the sentimental respect
of "Meu Pais," the soft bossa pacing of "Into the Light."
Tight arrangements frame such Lins favorites including "Who’s in Love
Here" and the jazzy samba "Desesperar Jamais" featuring
Jay Ashby’s smooth trombone play, which recalls Kenia’s initial recordings
which a certain nostalgic joy. Others like "Answered Prayers"
and "Mudança dos Ventos" showcase Kenia’s passion for
a Lins melody, especially when the arrangements compliment her style.

Kenia represents an important link in the Brazilian musical idiom. She
at once can create a contemporary vision of the best in Ivan Lins songbook,
and then turn it around to make the melody her own. She owns the songs
she sings by virtue of her ability to translate the emotional messages
with her vocal warmth.

Surveying the musical landscape of Brazil is sometimes a daunting task.
And sometimes its brings mixed results. With Brazilian critics trying desperately
to name the next Elis, or Gal it becomes difficult to understand
either the artist or the critic’s point of view as they search for that
elusive goal. And all too often that search leads nowhere for the music
fan, who ends up wondering what all the fuss is about in the first place.

But Kenia is a Brazilian original, building a bridge to the next generation
of Brazilian music fans by following in the footsteps of Astrud Gilberto,
the closest I can think of in terms of Kenia’s ability to translate that
wonderful sense of saudade and spice that her songs provide. One
can’t listen to Kenia sing without appreciating her artistry. Her voice
can suspend time, and it can lead you to think about nothing at all, even
if just for a few minutes, and in this day that’s nothing short of miraculous.

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