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Carmen Cuesta: Mi Bossa Nova

Publisher: Sony Music

Bossa nova as an art form is a bit clouded at this point in history. If you're over 50 and living in the US, you recall the introduction of this music directly from Brazil, by way of saxophonist Stan Getz. Getz's collaboration with Joćo Gilberto and wife Astrud put Brazilian jazz and bossa on the map in a way that it will never be again. Jazz cool coupled with Astrud Gilberto's incredibly genuine rendition of "The Girl From Ipanema" insured a future for the music. Even after the jazz fire died in the US, bossa nova was picked up as music of interest in other countries, including Madrid, Spain where Carmen Cuesta grew up. Even Japanese pop group Pizzacato Five recorded some credible bossa-infused dance music, so there's no telling how long the legacy will persist...

Cuesta's story may not be one you're familiar with, but she's been involved with some musical greats over her career spanning several decades now. Her husband is guitar player Chuck Loeb, now a member of Fourplay. Loeb's career included a stint with Stan Getz, which also brought him into contact with Cuesta. Mi Bossa Nova feels like a love letter from Loeb and Cuesta to Getz and Brazilian composer Antonio Jobim. Comparisons to Astrud Gilberto are inevitable, but it's clear that Cuesta has a more trained voice and is drawing from a wider array of influences than Gilberto. This isn't an attempt to cash in on a bossa nova revival, just a pure expression of how much Cuesta appreciates this particular form.

All but two of the songs on the album are from Jobim, who is to bossa nova what James Brown would be to funk, or Ray Charles would be to soul music. "Fotografia" is our pick for the most memorable, if only because it matches luscious harmonies with perfect execution from Cuesta, and instrumentation stripped bare of ornament. Mi Bossa Nova is produced, but not overproduced. All the musicians are more than capable, and take tasteful if somewhat limp solos around Cuesta's delivery of each song's lyrics. You don't have to speak Portuguese to know that Jobim filled his work with poignant and thoughtful images. The melodies, whether light and joyous on songs like "Triste" or reflective on "Manha de Carnaval," rest on harmonies that require real musicianship to perform. Singing the subtle twists beautifully, Carmen Cuesta does Jobim proud. She achieves far more than just floating over the band, though. It's clear that this is her record, her inspiration, and music she's taken to heart. Even though bossa has been reduced in some circles to hip background music, you owe it to yourself to hear Mi Bossa Nova and understand how powerful Brazilian jazz can be in the proper hands.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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