CD review

Carmen Souza – The Silver Messengers

Carmen Souza – The Silver Messengers
(Galileo GMC087. CD Review by Jane Mann)

This album, recorded between London and Lisbon for German record label Galileo, is London-based Portuguese/Cape Verdean singer Carmen Souza’s ninth. It is devoted entirely to the music of American jazz composer/pianist Horace Silver (1928-2014) who was also of Cape Verdean descent – his father emigrated to the USA in his youth.

Souza considers Silver a huge influence and this album is her tribute to him. She recalls: “Growing up, I listened a lot to my father’s records, which were mainly instrumental Cape Verdean music, because he was a guitar player as well and was very much into that. When I first listened to Horace Silver, I could hear the same vibe, the same swing, intention, harmonically and melodically, familiar movements, cadences, chord changes, somehow I could hear the sound of my childhood, but with a different texture and aroma, in other words – jazz.”

Souza and Portuguese bassist/musical partner Theo Pascal have reworked six Silver songs, adding some new Cape Verde Creole lyrics (the language Souza spoke in the family home). There are also three previously released arrangements of Silver tunes, and two self-penned compositions dedicated to Silver, Silver Blues and Lady Musika. The results of these reworkings are charming – this is a suave, almost poppy take on some great tunes. The arrangements bring in elements of Souza’s folk music heritage, with Cape Verdean, Afro Brazilian and African musical ingredients, and this makes for a rich and original jazz fusion.

The band are terrific. Souza herself has a fabulously versatile voice – she can do a smokey blues contralto, but mostly favours high sweet dripping phrasing in the manner of Billie Holliday, or a slightly winsome Blossom Dearie. She can scat with the best of them, her voice occasionally uncannily like a high berimbau. It’s imaginative stuff – for St Vitus Dance, she transcribed the piano solo of Silver’s original as a vocal line and wrote some lyrics. Pascal’s arrangement layers Brazilian maracutu-style percussion under some minimal piano to pleasing effect. Londoner Benjamin Burrell (piano) sounds completely at home in this band, immersing himself in whichever musical form Souza/Pascal come up with. When Burrell was still a young student at music college, he was gigging with the late Abram Wilson, who also favoured leaping from one musical form to another, song by song. Pascal himself is a melodic bass player, for example on Señor Blues – a minimalist affair, with a pleasing ostinato bass line beneath guitar and vocals from Souza, an understated piano riff, and a measured drum part from the excellent Mozambican drummer and percussionist Elias Kacomanolis, another long-time Souza stalwart.

Souza and Pascal have certainly picked some lovely tunes. Their version of Pretty Eyes is particularly appealing to me – it has that authentic Silver feel, with swinging piano from Souza. Kathy, a Moacir Santos composition for Silver, has Souza-penned creole lyrics, which sound right, somehow. It is all played with a bright delicacy, but in the same way that Bossa Nova can at first seem deceptively light, this music also repays careful listening. Silver’s most well-known tune is Song For My Father with its fabulous introductory riff, famously borrowed by Steely Dan for their hit Rikki Don’t Lose That Number. Here, with a charming arrangement – beautiful vocals, immaculate percussion and lovely Afro Cuban piano throughout from Jonathan Idiagbonya – it returns to its Cape Verdean roots.

Track list:
(All music composed by Horace Silver, except where indicated)
(All arrangements by Theo Pascal)
Soul Searching
The Jody Grind
Señor Blues
Nutville (lyrics – Carmen Souza)
Lady Musika – Theo Pascal / Carmen Souza
St Vitus Dance
Pretty Eyes
Kathy (lyrics – Carmen Souza)
Song For My Father (lyrics – Carmen Souza)
Cape Verdean Blues (lyrics – Carmen Souza)
Silver Blues – Theo Pascal / Carmen Souza

Personnel:

Carmen Souza – vocals, piano & guitar, small percussion
Theo Pascal – bass & double bass, backing vocals
Elias Kacomanolis – drums, backing vocals
Benjamin Burrell – piano, backing vocals
Guests:
Zoe Pascal – drums (track 10)
Jonathan Idiagbonya – piano (track 9)
Sebastian Sherriff – percussion (track 9)

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