Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Record Review: “Raindrop: Improvisations with Chopin” by Deanna Witkowski

Bossa Nova, Chicago Artists, Classical, Jazz, Latin, Record Reviews No Comments »



On the solo piano “Raindrop,” Witkowski, a former Chicago jazzer, approaches Chopin’s music from a creative point of view—not so much reverent as playful. She begins with a straight take on the downtempo Romantic piece “Nocturne in E-Flat Major,” employing her classical training to convey her interpretation, rather than relying on embellishments. But immediately afterward she launches into “Walking the Labyrinth,” an original composition inspired by the nocturne and created on the spot—a complete improvisation. Read the rest of this entry »

Polana Polymath: Prolific Polish Performer Anna Maria Jopek Brings Her Show to Chicago on Her First Stateside Tour

Bossa Nova, Folk, Interviews, Jazz, Vocal Music No Comments »


By Ernest Barteldes

Though not quite a household name for American audiences, Anna Maria Jopek (pronounced YO-pek) is one of the most prolific and eclectic performers in adult contemporary Polish music. From her début album “Ale Jestem” (Universal, 1997), she has explored various musical nuances, going from classical Polish to jazz and various genres in between, including Brazilian, Portuguese and even a recent incursion into Asian sounds via her collaboration with Japanese pianist Makoto Ozone on the 2011 self-produced album “Haiku,” which could be described as a sonic blend between Polish and Japanese musical sensibilities.

Over her decade and a half career, she has worked with many well-known musicians including Branford Marsalis, bassists Christian McBride and Richard Bona, Ivan Lins and late bossa nova pioneer Oscar Castro-Neves. “Upojenie” (Nonesuch, 2008) recorded with Pat Metheny and her sole album available in the US market, is arguably one of her best works yet—a combination of original material and reimagined Metheny tunes with Polish-language lyrics specially written for the project. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Bebel Gilberto and Chucho Valdés & The Afro-Cuban Messengers/Ravinia

Afro-Cuban, Bossa Nova, Festivals, Jazz, Latin, World Music No Comments »


On her current tour, New York-born Brazilian singer-songwriter Bebel Gilberto is going in a completely different direction. Instead of playing familiar hits and a few new tunes, she is doing the opposite: most of the tunes on her recent sets have included tunes from “Tudo,” an album that has yet to hit stores as of this writing. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Jobim Tribute” by Les Sabler

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Among Brazilian composers recognized internationally, you could certainly say that Antônio Carlos Jobim compares to none other so far—he is one of the few whose body of work is just as respected as that of Gershwin or Harold Arlen. However, few contemporary fans know his work beyond “The Girl From Ipanema,” “Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars),” “Desafinado” or maybe “Waters of March” simply because his other songs have been absent from jazz songbooks of late. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Amor Planeta” by Pacifika

Alt-Rock, Bossa Nova, Dance Pop, Indie Pop, Latin, Pop, Psychedelic, Record Reviews, Reggae, Rock, World Music No Comments »


On their third release, the Vancouver-based trio formed by vocalist Silvana Kane, guitarist/producer Adam Popowitz and bassist Toby Peter seem to be taking the music into a deeper, more psychedelic direction without completely losing touch with their Latin, Middle Eastern and electronic roots. The songs are still framed by near-whispered vocals and nylon-guitar-framed textures alongside multi-tracked instruments and vocals sung mostly in Spanish, but the trio seems to have found a more organic approach to their sound. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Bailar En La Cueva” by Jorge Drexler

Afro-Cuban, Alt-Rock, Bossa Nova, Cumbia, Forró, Hip-Hop, Latin, Merengue, Pop, Record Reviews, Rock, Samba, Tropicalismo/Tropicália, World Music No Comments »


On his most diverse release to date, Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler—best known Stateside for being the sole composer to date to win an Oscar for a non-English song—goes into various musical styles to convey his message. The title song mixes electronic and folk elements with a syncopated beat and a catchy chorus, while “Bolivia” blends forró and cumbia. A berimbau (a Brazilian instrument commonly used in capoeira meets) leads the beat.

Legendary Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso makes a cameo appearance toward two verses in Spanish with a melody that goes against the song’s entire form. “La Luna de Rasquí” is an upbeat tune with Afro-Caribbean elements that is sure to get you moving. “Universos Paralelos” is arguably the most inventive track–it begins with an easygoing samba-like feel and the vocals of Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux (who seems to be all over Latin pop lately) comes almost out of nowhere to give her bit on the topic of star-crossed lovers. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Maria Rita/City Winery

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Brazilian singer Maria Rita built her career doing her best to be outside the shadow of her late mother Elis Regina, a legendary performer in her own right whose career was cut short by a cocaine overdose. It was not an easy task, since Rita’s voice is incredibly similar to her mother’s. Over the years, she stayed away from Regina’s material while making inventive, jazz-inspired albums accompanied by a simple trio of piano, acoustic bass and drums (the exception was 2007’s “Samba Meu,” which was recorded with various percussive instruments added to the band.)

It was not until 2012 that she finally agreed to work on a project with Regina’s music in commemoration of the thirty year anniversary of her passing. “Viva Elis” was originally planned to be a limited five-performance engagement, but due to public demand it later evolved into a national tour and a CD and DVD entitled “Redescobrir.” The album covers her mother’s greatest hits played in arrangements close to the original recordings (the audience is heard cheering at the opening chords of tunes like “Como Nossos Pais” and “Águas de Março”) while some of the lesser-known songs were given a completely different treatment under the musical direction of her brother, arranger and producer João Marcelo Bôscoli. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “New Samba Jazz Directions” by Duduka Da Fonseca Trio

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Duduka, New Samba Jazz DirectionsRECOMMENDED

Drummer extraordinaire Duduka Da Fonseca’s new release, “New Samba Jazz Directions” (Zoho), recorded in Rio de Janeiro with a trio of young Brazilian musicians rounded out by David Feldman (piano, previously with Scott Feiner’s Pandeiro Jazz) and Guto Wirtti (bass), contains mostly original songs penned by Da Fonseca and the group plus two covers: “Sonho de Maria” (Marcos Valle/Paulo Sergio Valle) and :Zelão: (Sergio Ricardo). With these musicians, the bandleader brings further a refreshed sound that takes him in a new direction as a drummer and a songwriter. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “I Thought About You: Tribute to Chet Baker” by Eliane Elias

Bossa Nova, Jazz, Latin, Record Reviews, World Music No Comments »
Photo: Bob Wolfenson

Photo: Bob Wolfenson


Late trumpeter Chet Baker may have lived a troubled life all the way to his tragic death in 1988, but he left a legacy of great recordings that influenced countless musicians and fans throughout the years—his approach to singing and playing clearly informed the Bossa Nova movement in Brazil, and many standards today are immediately identified with him.

In recognition to Baker’s talent, Brazilian-born pianist Eliane Elias looks back at his storied career by giving a fresh interpretation to many tunes identified with him, mixing “cool” West Coast jazz grooves, with Brazilian-flavored tunes and some straight-ahead jazz. The album opens with the title track played in a bare-bones arrangement featuring Elias on piano and vocals, bassist (and husband) Marc Johnson and guitarist Steve Cardenas. She is joined by legendary bossa-era guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves on “There Will Never Be Another You,” which appears here as an acoustic samba.  Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Putumayo Presents: Women of Brazil”

Alt-Rock, Bossa Nova, Jazz, Latin, Pop, Record Reviews, Rock, Samba, Singer-Songwriter, World Music No Comments »


Those who expected this compilation to feature the likes of Marisa Monte, Gal Costa or even newer names like Bebel Gilberto or Cibelle will be disappointed at first—this release contains none of their songs. Instead, we are presented with few names ever heard Stateside save for Luisa Maita or Mart’nalia, who have regularly toured in the US. The disc opens with Italy-based Nossa Alma Canta’s “Bossanova,” a tune that remembers the Brazilian movement that swept the world with the help of Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd.  The tune name recalls many familiar hits like “Wave,” “Desafinado” while playing snippets of familiar tunes via instrumental interludes. Read the rest of this entry »