All the excitement of the Summer Olympics in Rio got me thinking about the long history of Brazilian music in California.
The great composer Moacir Santos set out for Hollywood in the late 1960s hoping to build a career writing film scores, which didn’t pan out, but led to several classic albums for Blue Note Records. Sergio Mendes had much better luck recasting Brazilian and American pop hits with Brasil ’66, and Flora Purim and Airto became minor pop stars in the ‘70s with their soaring Brazilian jazz.
These days, many Brazilian musicians call California home, including guitarist Sergio Assad. Assad is best known as half of classical music’s most celebrated guitar duo (with his younger brother Odair), but his gorgeous new album “Relíquia” (Adventure Music) introduces a new familial partnership. His daughter Clarice Assad is a fiercely creatively vocalist, pianist and oft-commissioned composer whose work has been performed by major symphonies and chamber ensembles around the world.
Sergio has lived in San Francisco since 2008, when he joined the faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory, while Clarice, who’s based in Chicago, has long worked closely with San Francisco’s New Century Chamber Orchestra as a composer in residence, arranger and orchestrator. A love letter of an album, “Relíquia” is full of ravishing melodies that often feel hauntingly familiar, only to resolve with an unanticipated twist.
Sergio composed most of the songs, working with an array of top-shelf lyricists like Daniel Basilio (on the dreamy “Artistico”), who’s collaborated with Clarice on several song cycles, and Chico Cesar, on what should be a new standard, the surging “Capoeira.” In many ways, the album feels like a rapprochement. Music took Sergio away from his family when Clarice was growing up as he toured internationally. “Reliquia” brings them together as equals, with a cast of collaborators that includes clarinetist Derek Bermel, percussionist Keita Ogawa, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, vocalist Angela Olinto and mandolin master Mike Marshall on the title track. If the project has an emotional centerpiece, it’s Clarice’s brief, luminous tune, “Song For My Father.”
Clarice is known for singing in French, Italian and English, in addition to Portuguese. San Diego jazz vocalist Allison Adams Tucker is also something of an expert in multilingual music. Her new album “WANDERlust” (Origin Records) features songs in six languages, and she’s convincing in each one. A celebration of her love of travel and far-flung musical passions, the album opens with Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s “When In Rome,” which is kind of perfect, given her chameleon like powers.
She recorded the album in New York, and “WANDERlust” features an international cast of jazz stars including saxophonist Chris Potter, drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Scott Colley, guitarist Stéphane Wrembel and the great Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, who supplies the supple bossa nova pulse on his arrangement of Jobim’s “Águas de Março.”
This is Tucker’s third album, and it really feels like she’s stepping into the big leagues. She covers a wide range of material with authority and intelligence, from Piazzolla’s “Vuelvo al Sur” and Morricone’s “Cinema Paradiso” to “Better Days Ahead,” a Pat Metheny tune featuring her wordless vocals. Like the best travel companions, Tucker coaxes you to experience things in new ways, like on the title track, a gorgeous arrangement of Björk’s “Wanderlust” by pianist Josh Nelson. Hopefully there are many more travels in Tucker’s future.