Thursday, June 24, 2010

Latin Jazz Week: Badi Assad

This week JazzWrap will take a look at of artists, groups and albums that have shape Latin jazz as well as taking it beyond.

Badi Assad (vocals, guitar, percussion; b. 1966)
(photo: Christine Alicino)

Born in Rio de Janerio, Badi Assad has become one of the most uniquely gifted and respected talents of the last twenty years. She is a superb guitarist in addition to utilizing her exquisite mastery of vocal improvisation which is one the most attractive things for me. Her voice is not the typical smooth 'summer"-like' voice you might associate with other female vocalist. It's very inventive and demanding of your attention. Her playing at first listen may seem typically Brasilian, once you sit with it you realize there is something very special here. Assad has recorded 8 albums since 1989. She has also recovered from severe illness which kept her from recording during parts of the '90s.

Her early recordings consisted of a mixture of standards and originals but each glows with a confidence and a vibrancy of a talent ready to emerge. The early recordings are really wrapped up nicely on the compilation The Best Of Badi Assad (Chesky Records). Assad's most recent work Verde (Universal) and Wonderland (Universal) both keep the deep originality and beauty of her previous material while adding some better production. There is also a more upbeat tone to them (probably because of her physical recovery) that makes these two releases a good starting point. They are probably the easiest to find as well.

Verde opens with a lovely tune spoken in English, "With My Little White Top" before turning to the funky rhythms of "Nao Dianta" which also feature some vocal acrobatics by Assad. Fun, rich and exciting stuff to start throughout with "Viola Meu Bem" featuring more vocal experimentation. Verde closes of two romantic notes with "Valse D'amelie" and "Asa Branca". Verde is a heartfelt document of new Brasilian rhythms and probably my favourite of Badi Assad records and definitely a good starting point as mentioned before.

Wonderland (Universal) is a truly ambitious record with covers of Tori Amos and The Eurythmics, Antonio Carlos Jobim. It's not so much who she is interpreting its whats she has done with these versions which make Wonderland an stellar recording. She transforms these covers as well as her own material into soul-searching indictments of the human condition. The production work by Jacques Morelenbaum (recently off a successful collaboration with Ryiuchi Sakamoto) is dense and expansive giving each track a very enveloping and thoughtful feel. The arrangements on tracks like "Sweet Dreams," "A Banco Do Distinto" and "1000 Mirrors' are real evidence of how Badi Assad is reaching beyond the traditional Brasilian themes. Wonderland is an experiment that comes off really really well.

Badi Assad is definitely in a large pool of new Brasilian artists who are thinking of what the next direction for Brasilian jazz/pop can be. She is really worth your attention.

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