By Don Heckman
Any performance by Kátia Moraes and Sambaguru is a gripping tour through the seemingly infinite rhythms and far reaching passions of Brazilian music. And their appearance at Vitello’s Friday night offered all that and more.
Moraes has been one of the Southland’s most dynamic singer/dancers since the ’90s. A frequent star of Carnaval celebrations, her performances sizzle with rhythmic high voltage and soaring melodies. But the work she does with the six piece ensemble Sambaguru takes in a far broader perspective.
In her non-stop set Saturday, the music cruised through a brilliantly kaleidoscopic collection of Latin music. Surprisingly, the only element missing was bossa nova — Brazil’s best known genre, and the staple of most Brazilian ensembles appearing in this country. But no problem. The music, most of it written by Moraes and keyboardist/composer Bill Brendle, along with the intensely rhythmic playing of Sambaguru, provided a colorful, richly succulent musical banquet.
One could make a convincing case for Brazil as the source of some of the most richly diverse musical forms created by any single country in the world. And Moraes and Sambaguru adventured convincingly through many of them — from the sophistication of samba to the African-tinged rhythms of Bahia — and all stops in between.
Although Vitello’s upstairs room had been fitted with a dance floor, Moraes’ frequent calls for members of the audience to try out their samba steps produced no results. Fortunately, she offered a few of her own, recalling the irrepressible dancing she once did with groups such as Viver Brasil Dance Company and the Folk Ballet of Brasil. Too bad she didn’t do more.
Backing Moraes’ fiery, audience-grabbing singing and dancing: special guest Miguel Gandelman, tenor saxophone, bassist Hussain Jiffry, percussionist Kevin Ricard, drummer Tony Shogren and keyboardist Brendle. Together, they created the sort of performance that deserves a far wider hearing. It’s time for the programmers and producers at Disney Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, the Greek Theatre and beyond to check out the utterly mesmerizing music of Kátia Moraes and Sambaguru.