Published Jul 02, 2015Brazilian guitarist and vocalist Joyce Moreno is approaching 50 years in show business — long enough to be intimately connected to the bossa nova originators at the start of her career, and to be become a consummate interpreter and gentle innovator in her own right. With decades of self-written successes as something of a Joni Mitchell of Brazil, in recent years she's turned her warm voice and subtle but precise guitar style to digging into some of the definitive classics of bossa with a veteran's savvy and ingenuity.
Her backing trio features a rambunctious Helio Alves on piano, but is anchored by husband Tutty Moreno on drums. Anchor is the wrong word — Tutty's baseline feel is light as a feather and he comes up so far behind the beat that you feel like he might fall over at any moment. However, he was schooling us all night with devastating improvised grooves, which found new life in the signature bossa beat; his cymbal work alone was worthy of Milford Graves.
Alves was enthusiastic and was nominally the lead instrument on the evening, but never so far that he stole the spotlight from the other band members, especially since this was all in the aid of Joyce's art. Her voice is darker and richer now, but her guitar playing is as great as ever; like Mitchell, it's an undervalued aspect of her talent.
The first part of her set took on some of Joyce's original material, including "Essa Mulher," which she wrote for the world-class diva Elis Regina. Joyce's vocal aren't on the same level as this all-time great, but her crafty interpretation was hypnotic and mesmerizing at glacial tempo. Also noticeable at that tempo was how fluid yet staccato her guitar playing was — it was almost sounded like percussion where there otherwise was none. As she steered towards the classics, the magic increased, even for songs any Brazilophile has heard a million times before. "Desafinado" was so very slow, but showcased the economy of her guitar skills, on the other hand her version of Baden Powell's "Canto De Ossanha" was much more aggressive and finished with a spectacular flourish of drums that Tutty had only hinted at for most of the night.
The only thing lacking a tiny bit from this show was in the bass department: local bassist Dan Gigon proved to be an able sub for the evening, never messing up and providing simple, soulful, accompaniment but I was left wondering how a musician who'd spent more time with these veterans would've contributed his own voice.