Liner Notes for "Love Dance" (by Ira Gitler)

In 2000 Lee Jeske, in his notes for Serenade In Blue, Ithamara Koorax’s debut CD for Milestone (and first American release), wrote: “When it comes to Brazilian music, we Americans always seem to get our information a little late.”

Well, I’m about two years behind Lee but the process of catching up has been a pleasure. I was made aware of this Brazilian songbird with a double
dip. Serenade In Blue arrived in the same package with the test pressing of Love Dance. I was brought up to speed in no time and quickly became a Koorax Konvert. It is instructive to note that Koorax was just acclaimed as one of the world’s Top 4 jazz singers in Down Beat’s 67th Annual Readers Poll, in December 2002.

In her teens la Koorax was singing “jingles” and in backup configurations for Brazilian pop stars. Her breakthrough came when her first solo recording, Iluminada,, was used as the theme song for a popular novela (Brazilian soap opera) and the soundtrack album, released by the Som Livre label, went platinum.

In 1994 Ithamara recorded with Art Farmer for Creed Taylor’s CTI label in New York but the CD was never issued in the U.S. By that time, however, she had already been very well received in Europe and Japan, being acclaimed by Japan’s jazz bible, Swing Journal magazine.

Her early listening experience included Ella Fitzgerald and Elis Regina but, she says, “The most important influences on my singing were Elizabeth Cardoso (the uncredited singer in the original Black Orpheus soundtrack), Carmen McRae, Shirley Horn and Flora Purim.”

With all these fine singers in her background, Koorax is her own woman. She is multi-faceted and multi-lingual, comfortable in all situations and expressive in a variety of languages. Her range and technique are remarkable but you don’t necessarily take time out to marvel at her technique until later on because you are too absorbed in her musical message.

From the opening track, Antonio Carlos Jobim’s very haunting “Ligia,” the gentle caresses of her distinctive tones waft through your soul and you are captivated. There is a lovely clarinet solo by Juarez Araújo.

The CD’s subtitle is The Ballad Album. It is also an album of dedications. “Ligia,” for instance is dedicated by Ithamara to Stanley Turrentine, and “Love Dance” to Mark Murphy (whose Milestone CD, September Ballads, inspired her to conceive the Love Dance album).

“Love Dance,” the title track, by Ivan Lins, with English lyrics by Paul Williams, finds Koorax figuratively sculpting the song, using her powerful, yet delicate range to advantage. Here she is backed by the celebrated Brazilian group Azymuth, whose leader, J.R. Bertrami, contributes a highly complementary solo on the Fender-Rhodes electric piano.

Read through the personnel listings for each tracks and you will find a who’s who of Brazilian percussion masters from Joao Palma (known as “the king of the brushes,” a key contributor to albums by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Milton Nascimento, Paul Desmond, Walter Wanderley and Michael Franks, to name a few) to Dom Um Romao (Weather Report, Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66, Frank Sinatra, Robert Palmer), as well as such talented bassists such as Sergio Barroso (who recorded on Sarah Vaughan’s I Love Brazil album for Pablo), Manuel Gusmao (founding member of Copa Trio) and Jorge Pescara, a brilliant newcomer.

Collaborations play a large part in the overall richness of this album. These were Luiz Bonfá’s last recorded performances and the entire CD is dedicated to his memory. His composition “Man Alone”, with words by Stanley Jay Gelber, features the electric guitar of John McLaughlin, interacting with Koorax (the first time he has backed a singer) and also in solo. Bonfá and Nelson Angelo accompany on acoustic guitars. Ithamara’s passionate performance is no doubt enhanced by McLaughlin, the presence of Bonfá and a soprano sax solo by Jose Carlos “Big Horn” Ramos. She dedicated this
performance to Jimmy Scott.

Koorax’s other teaming with Bonfá is a succinct duo version of Vernon Duke and Yip Harburg’s timeless “April in Paris,” that is two minutes of magical transportation.

Ithamara takes part in five other duo performances. Two are with Cuban piano virtuoso Gonzalo Rubalcaba: one a most empathic rendition of Luis Demetrio’s bolero “La Puerta”; the other, a first-take connection on Jobim’s ”Olha Maria,” a theme originally titled “Amparo,” written in 1969 for the soundtrack of the motion picture The Adventurers.

A second duo introduces the esteemed, young German pianist, Jurgen Friedrich (winner of the Gil Evans Fellowship Award in 1997, when he was discovered by Creed Taylor), who accompanies Koorax in the classically-bent “I Loved You” by Claus Ogerman, based on a poem by Alexander Pushkin. Ithamara displays her classically-trained voice but uses her gifts judiciously. Freidrich wrote the brooding “Blauauge” (“Blue-eye”) specifically for this album and lyrics were added by German poet Almut Kresse. It adds another type of mood to the overall program. The dedication by Koorax is to Art Farmer.

Brazilian music luminary Marcos Valle wrote “O Amor é Chama” (lyrics by his brother Paulo Sergio Valle) back in the Sixties (it was recorded as “Flame” by Azymuth for Milestone in 1984). Here he supplies a carpet of keyboards as Ithamara invests her notes with that sweet
sinuosity she weaves so well.

Although placed at track 7, “Someday”, was the last song to be recorded for this collection. It is dedicated to Koorax and album producer Arnaldo DeSouteiro (he appears in the accompanying group on percussion) by Mario Castro-Neves, another Brazilian giant, who wrote the piece specially for the CD and plays piano and keyboards here. It’s a warm and sunny bossa with an upbeat outlook.

You must have noticed that although I have made some references to the
voice and style of Ithamara Koorax, I have refrained from describing it in too much detail. Obviously, her singing speaks for itself with celestial eloquence.

December 2002

(Mr. Gitler, born in NY in 1928 and regarded as the most important jazz historian alive, has written liner notes for legendary albums by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Art Blakey, Milt Jackson, Modern Jazz Quartet, Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins and countless others. A longtime contributor to Down Beat, Jazz Times and Swing Journal magazines, he teaches jazz history at the Manhattan School of Music. His books include Jazz Masters of the ‘40s and Swing to Bebop. He co-wrote, with Leonard Feather, The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. This is the first time that he writes liner notes for and album by a Brazilian singer)

Liner notes for the "Serenade in Blue" album (by Lee Jeske)


Liner notes for the "Almost In Love" album (by Luiz Bonfá)