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By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com


Saturday/Sunday, October 25-26, 2008.


Tania Maria Correa Reis is a Brazilian vocalist, pianist and composer. Born on May 9, 1948, with a professional career of over 30 years, Tania Maria is one of only two or three true divas of Brazilian music alive today.


Tania’s work mixes Brazilian popular music with jazz, samba and funk. It’s intoxicating the way she rocks. Heavy percussion even when it’s just her singing with her piano. Her piano attack is fierce, which is to say when she hits the key they respond as a drum would.

What is not always immediately evident is her encyclopedic knowledge of jazz that enables her to bring a range of diverse influences to fruition in unlikely arrangements that read on paper like a recipe for a disaster, but when she plays them, my, my, oh my, how they dance together, like a nimble-footed pachyderm doing the James Brown.

In addition, the lady has a brass section in her throat and Ella Fitzgerald’s scatting chops just dripping off her lips. Improvising vocals in tandem with her piano is her signature, and she does it like no one else you have heard do it.

I’ve chosen nine tracks from a variety of her numerous releases. Six tracks are covers and there are two originals: “Vem P’ra Roda” and “Amei Demais (I Loved Too Much)”—there are two different versions of the latter.
The emphasis however is on her re-interpretations. Check out the Rolling Stones song “Satisfaction.” This has got to be the most innovative arrangement ever, especially the way she reprises Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn theme.


How does one think to start with Samba percussion, then dollop on heavy layers of funk, come back with a heavy layer of cool jazz horns plus her scatting! Wow, what an explosive mix!

Dorothy Fields & Jimmy McHugh’s “I Can’t give You Anything But Love” becomes a Rio de Janeiro-dwelling expatriate, Favela funky, but never leaving its jazzy roots so far behind with a growling trumpet solo. Again on the back end, Tania’s expressive and exciting scatting is a virtual trumpet section onto itself.

No less impressive is what she does with Sidney Bechet’s “Petite Fleur.” She composed a counter-theme, “Florzinha” that completely re-imagines the song, especially those samba drums in the opening with a classical sounding piano vamp over top. I love it when musicians reach back almost 80 years - remember, Bechet was Coltrane’s inspiration for “My Favorite Things”.

“Besame Mucho” like most of Maria’s music, mixes all kinds of rhythm influences: is it salsa, samba or tango? This time around Tania treats us to a short piano interlude. On the out chorus, my ears tell me it’s a bowed bass but one never knows what oddities Ms. Maria will throw in the mix.

“It’s Not for Me To Say” is a standard done in English like she is sitting in the hippest supper club in the world, singing in a heavily accented English before breaking into an infectious piano-cum-scat solo that is totally enchanting. Who would not fall for this?
Perhaps the most radical of all the arrangements is Tania deconstruction of Antonio Carlos Jobim-Newton Mendonca’s “One Note Samba”.  It’s done ultra-slow, as though it were a blues instead of a Bossa Nova. I'm particularly impressed with Maria’s seemingly inexhaustible ability to put classic material in a new setting and give us a totally fresh interpretation. Plus, she has a knack for delivering knock-out punches at the end of her songs.


Here, just when we think the tenor-saxophonist has stolen the show with Wayne Shorter-like tonalities, Tania overdubs a brilliant vocal line in the background that commands our attention, even when the saxophonist is blowing up a storm. Another score for this hard scatting sister.

“Vem P’ra Roda” is one of those elegant Brazilian funk numbers, sort of like the senior prom when all the folks in all their finery line up, and three hundred pairs of feet start to do the electric slide with deep dips and huge smiles on their lips, as they twirl and add a couple of Harlem Shake shoulder twitches to the flavor. On this number, she seems too cool to sweat, but as you can tell from the audience’s uproarious response, she has thoroughly moved us.

“Amei Demais” is the opening and closing song on this Tania Maria set. I really admire how deftly she lines out the melody over an ever changing rhythm background that seems to force the song to move in two directions at once. Tania makes you simultaneously Samba and slow drag, and of course, such genre ambidexterity is her thing, a thing she does exceedingly well.


* * *

Tania Maria music:

“Amei Demais (I Loved Too Much)”

“Satisfaction” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”Bela Vista

“Besame Mucho”Intimidade

“It’s Not For Me To Say” and “Vem P’ra Roda”Happiness

“One Note Samba” and “Amei Demais”Viva Brazil

Kalamu ya Salaam is a New Orleans-based writer and filmmaker. He is also the founder of Nommo Literary Society - a Black writers workshop.

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