Though he uses the luscious framework of traditional bossa nova--steamy rhythms, bittersweet melodies, and soft singing--Brazilian star Vinicius Cantuaria is more subversive than slavish. As on his previous stateside releases, 49-year-old Cantuaria draws upon the modern language of sampling, sound effects, and the mood of dark soundtracks to imbue his forlorn, deeply blue acoustic bossa with an otherworldly quality. A former drummer with Caetano Veloso, Cantuaria seems to enjoy slow-motion fission. His songs float and drift, suspended in space by the slightest effort of his liquid voice and gentle acoustic guitar strumming. Electric guitarists Marc Ribot and Bill Frisell add resonant shades of red and hot pink to the simmering mix, as in the beautiful, hazy version of Jobim's "Ela e Carioca." Also onboard are bassist Marc Johnson, drummers Paulo Braga and Joey Baron, pianist Brad Mehldau, and vocalist Veloso.
"Agua Rasa" is one of the album's many glimmering moments, a soft, undulating melody underlying a tale that sounds utterly familiar and intimate, even if it's in Portuguese. "Ordinaria" uses a street samba groove and the sound of clinking bottles, muted trumpet, and low bass for a kind of desolate, sun-scorched Brazilian epic poem. Cantuaria's guitar unfurls poignantly here as a trumpet cries over rolling brush strokes. It's romantic, yet somehow tragic. "Rio," with David Byrne, is street-smart and sassy, rumbling with frame drum and eerie samples. "Nova de Sete" recalls Jobim, a lovely, fragile song supported by a lonely, lost vocal and Bill Frisell's haunting guitar tones. --Ken Micallef