Vocalist-composer Claudia Villela
puts her stunning, supple virtuosity on vivid display with the April 12 release of Encantada Live
on her own Taina Music label. Drawn from several live performances, the album alternates between performances by a septet, a quartet featuring Villela on piano, and intimate duets with various partners. It also includes three of Villela’s originals, three interpretations of key Brazilian composers, and three wholly improvised pieces by Villela and her accompanists.
The sweeping panorama of Encantada Live
—only her sixth recording in a 40-year career—is the direct result of a near-death experience in December 2017. While visiting Rio de Janeiro, Villela escaped from a terrifying electrical fire in her own apartment. Her own injuries were fairly minor, but the fire devastated her home, many keepsakes, and the masters of an album she’d been working on for two years.
“It left with me with a deeper recognition of the preciousness of time. It’s time to really live in the moment and move on,” Villela says. “I want to put everything out. I’m not going to hold it back. This is a cathartic album.”
Whether by coincidence or fate, it’s also an album that showcases everything that she can do. The opening “Cuscus” alone demonstrates Villela’s enormous range and imagination, modulating from a guttural growl to a soprano squeak and inventing in the moment both a melody (with guitarist Bruce Dunlap) and a fully developed Portuguese lyric. The same duo creates a warm, introspective ballad on the closing “Em Paz.” The nearly 15-minute “Minas” is an exquisite but multifaceted improvisation with Villela’s longtime collaborator, pianist Kenny Werner.
However, Encantada Live
also places her remarkable abilities into the context of compositional form. Villela proffers a beautiful, wordless rendition (with guitarist Peixoto) of 20th-century Brazilian classical composer Heitor Villa-Lobos’s “Bachianas #5,” as well as rhythmically exciting septet versions of two popular Brazilian songs: Edu Lobo’s “Viola Fora de Moda” and Alex Madureira’s “Cumeno com Cuentro.” In addition, she revisits three of the original pieces from her 1994 debut, Asa Verde: “Negra,” with guitarist Jeff Buenz; “Jangada,” with a quartet featuring Buenz, bassist Gary Brown, drummer Celso Alberti, and Villela herself on piano; and “Taina,” featuring newly improvised lyrics, with the septet (Brown on bass plus Jasnam Daya Singh, piano; Ricardo Peixoto, guitar; Andy Connel, soprano saxophone; Michael Spiro, percussion; and the late drummer Paul van Wageningen).
Claudia Villela was born August 27, 1961 in Rio de Janeiro. She grew up surrounded by music in her grandmother’s home, beginning to make music herself when she was only a year old. She started singing in college festivals around Rio at age 15, and before long found work as a studio musician. She also started performing around the city, while developing a book of original songs featuring her lyrics and music. Initially planning to enroll in medical school, Villela decided to combine her two passions and earned a B.A. in music therapy from the Brazilian Conservatory of Music.
Relocating to the San Francisco
Bay Area in the mid-1980s, Villela quickly immersed herself in the region’s thriving jazz scene, gaining valuable experience with the Down Beat-award winning De Anza College Jazz Singers. She studied with NEA Jazz Master Sheila Jordan
and with John Robert Dunlap of the New York Metropolitan Opera before making her recording debut with 1994’s Grammy-nominated Asa Verde
She has since performed and recorded with such major jazz figures as Michael Brecker
, Toots Thielemans
, Toninho Horta
, Hermeto Pascoal
, Airto Moreira
, Romero Lubambo
, Mario Adnet
, Dori Caymmi
, and Kenny Werner
(with whom she recorded her 2004 fourth album, Dream Tales
, as a duo). That same year, she recorded a live performance at Kuumbwa Jazz Center
in Santa Cruz, California, for broadcast on NPR; it was released as Live @ Kuumbwa 2004
in 2013. Encantada Live
is her second live album.
Claudia Villela will perform at Braço de Prata, Lisbon, Portugal on Saturday 3/9; at SFJAZZ’s Joe Henderson Lab, 201 Franklin St, San Francisco, on Wednesday 3/13, Wednesday 3/27, and Thursday 4/4; at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St, Berkeley, Friday 4/26; at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar St, Santa Cruz, Monday 4/29; and at SFJAZZ’s Miner Auditorium, Wednesday 6/19.