By Devon Wendell
Hollywood, CA. Today many Bossa Nova acts just phone it in and the romantically poetic aspects of the music are lost amidst an array of overly subdued and pedestrian vocals and redundant arrangements. This was not this case with Teka and her New Bossa Trio (featuring Chris Judge on guitar and Ruben Martinez on flute and percussion) as they performed a dynamic set of both Brazilian and American standards, as well as new material from her latest album So Many Stars at The Gardenia Wednesday evening.
This was also a rare Los Angeles appearance by the Brazilian born Teka and her group, who have made Santa Barbara their home base. The Gardenia’s small and warm ambiance was the perfect fit for this music.
The trio opened with many Antonio Carlos Jobim classics such as “So Danco Samba,”, “Aguas De Marco” and “Ela E Carioca.” The sensually hypnotic mood was set from the first note on Teka’s acoustic guitar. Her right hand comping was delicate and on par with a master jazz guitarist. Her rich vocal vibrato and tender yet powerful phrasing brought to mind some of the great instrumentalists in jazz history. Hearing Teka’s voice, I wondered how much better Stan Getz would have played if he had lived to hear her.
Chris Judge’s melodic, jazz influenced guitar leads and Ruben Martinez’s beautifully sparse percussion and angular flute solos gelled sweetly with each thoughtful nuance performed by Teka.
Performances such as Ivan Lins’ “Comecar De Novo” and Marcos Valle’s “Summer Samba” were mesmerizing. Martinez’s percussion was at just a slightly lower volume level than both Teka and Chris Judge’s guitar which created an ethereal dreamlike effect and accompanied the music tightly and melodically.
There’s a stark yet wonderfully haunting quality to Teka’s vocals and the overall sound of the trio that is totally original. She and the band know how to extract and communicate the dark romanticism which lies beneath the surface of every composition they chose to tackle.
This was certainly the case in one of the most mournfully powerful renditions of the Kurt Weil/Ogden Nash standard “Speak Low” that I’ve ever heard. Martinez’s solo weaved in and out of the melody line with grace and skill. Judge’s bluesy arpeggios accentuated Teka’s masterful chord comping and pleading vocals.
Teka’s ability to alter melodies and arrangements to fit her unique Bossa style was jaw dropping.
Her arrangement of the Nacio Herb Brown/Gus Kahn standard “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” (which is featured on her CD “So Many Stars”) exemplified Teka’s gift in covering a song and making it her own. Her chromatic breaks, gracefully played on her guitar, were among the night’s many highlights.
Teka would also fearlessly sing in both Portuguese and English on most of the performances. This was quite an impressive feat as she was equally engaging as an artist and performer in both languages. Jobim often wrote in both Portuguese and English and the sincerity of Jobim’s lyrics were felt on her reading of “Once I Loved,” which also had Chris Judge playing some Wes Montgomery flavored guitar octaves atop Teka’s sweet yet commanding vocals.
Although most of the set was comprised of ballads such as a playful cover of Burt Bacharach’s ‘The Look Of Love:” and a melancholic version of Djavan Caetana Viana’s “Flor De Lis,” it was Teka and her band’s up-tempo explorations that were often the most fascinating. “April Child” from her new album displayed Teka’s more percussive guitar chops and her often mature sultry vocals had a dash of childhood wonder to them. Martinez played his most lyrical flute solo of the night on this number.
Teka And the band closed with Hermeto Pascoal’s familiar instrumental “Valle De Ribeila.” Chris Judge got to show off more of his jazz licks as Teka sang the song’s melody along with the song’s changes. Martinez’s tasteful percussion flourishes gave both Teka and Judge room to improvise. This was pure jazz in its spirit and in its exploratory fashion.
As the final notes faded away, Teka and her New Bossa Trio released us from their spell, hopefully only for a short time. She and her band are truly brilliant artists that everyone should keep their ears and eyes on and they are deserving of a much wider audience. I can’t think of a better way to have celebrated International Jazz Day.
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Photos by Faith Frenz.
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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.