Music

Luciana Souza Delivers a Breathtaking Album of Nuance, Homage, and Poetry with 'The Book of Longing'

Photo courtesy of the artist

At times abstract and elusive while others vivacious and brimming with energy, Luciana Souza's The Book of Longing is a brilliant and sensual release from one of today's foremost jazz-crossover singers.

The Book of Longing
Luciana Souza

Sunnyside

24 August 2018

Though often referred to as a jazz musician, Brazilian singer Luciana Souza does wonders bending genre restrictions and expectations. She's collaborated extensively with various classical ensembles, from storied institutions like the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony, to forward-thinking chamber groups like A Far Cry and the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. Working with modern composers like Caroline Shaw, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and the wickedly versatile vocalist Theo Bleckmann, she's expanded her sonic signature to progressive and experimental sounds, building a stellar career beyond singing well-worn jazz standards.

The Book of Longing, her latest for Sunnyside Records, finds Souza writing music around the poetry of Leonard Cohen, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rosetti, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. This album isn't the first time Souza has written tunes based on texts from legendary poets–she's set works from Cohen and Pablo Neruda on prior records–but the sheer wealth of texts on The Book of Longing make it an undeniably ambitious and rewarding project.

Opening track "These Things" feels light as a cloud, dusted with brushed guitars and complimented by Souza's rich, yearning voice. It's damn impossible not to shudder at the beauty of her mature vocal tone as she intones, "These are the duties of the heart / These are the words we've come to call our gods." The minimal instrumentation and complex lyrics of "Daybreak" make it sound like the noir-infused bossa nova Antonio Carlos Jobim never got to write. Likewise, with a lazy groove and a tight trio "The Book" is a classic example of using less to say more.

In the promotional material Souza comments that setting music to poetry is like "falling in love", an act that inextricably binds her to the sentiments of a poet from ages past. Despite the generational gaps, Souza finds novel ways to humanize her settings. She crafts her melodies and harmonic landscape to breath new life into each word. Leonard Cohen's poem "Paris" bears a deep, melancholy weight (as texts from Cohen typically do), and Souza's melody makes each syllable shine without sounding insincere. "A Life" and "Remember" are sung with a beautiful, confessional tone that transcends any impressions Souza is limited to the world of Latin jazz.

The Book of Longing is a wonderful, intimate record, much of its mood owed to the sparse instrumentation. Chico Pinheiro's textured guitars and Scott Colley's tasteful bass lines bring depth and nuance to each track, music expertly complimented by occasional overdubbed percussion. It's not just the notes Pinheiro plays but how he plays them, from decisive and articulate melodies to gentile fingerstyle accompaniments. Colley, a highly in-demand bassist in the NY jazz scene, puts a wealth of soul and understanding in each note, supporting the music with even amounts of sound and silence. Recording such a small ensemble packed with phenomenal musicians allows each track to grow organically, from the hazy groove of "We Grow Accustomed to the Dark" to the exuberant joy of "Night Song".

While some listeners may grow tired of the album's reliance on trio dynamics and bare textures, The Book of Longing rewards those willing to mine a record for its lyrical and musical depth. Putting melodies to the words of noted poets is always a tricky proposition, but Souza builds monuments and breathtaking moments that still honor their sources.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Love in the Time of Coronavirus

I Went on a Jewel Bender in Quarantine. This Is My Report.

It's 2020 and everything sucks right now, so let's all fucking chill and listen to Jewel.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.

Music

Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."

Music

David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.

Music

On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Music

Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.

Music

Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.

Music

Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."

Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.