Saturday evening's "Bossa Nova and Cool Jazz" concert at Baird Auditorium united three of the genre's legendary Brazilian and American performers for an invigorating program of the original "smooth jazz."
With her elastic vocal range and conversational style, it is clear why Leny Andrade is one of bossa nova's most inspired interpreters. Her expressive, mesmerizing vocals filled the 500-seat space with enough color and nuance to evoke the ringside intimacy of a small club. Anchored by genre standards that included "The Girl From Ipanema" and "Wave," she soared and swooped through a lush palette of emotionally charged bossa nova. A scat singer of the first order, Andrade left her distinctly personal stamp on even the most familiar tunes.
The surprise treat of the evening was her superb trio of longtime collaborators, who had flown in from Brazil for the engagement. Pianist Joao Carlos Coutiho, bassist Lucio do Nascimento and drummer Adriano de Oliviera not only provided superbly intuitive support for the chanteuse, but were deeply soulful and inventive soloists in their own right.
Legendary D.C. jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd began the second set, performing a brief and quietly touching brace of duets with Andrade. The Washington setting made this first meeting of the two pioneers all the more poignant. It was Byrd's historic 1962 "Jazz Samba" album, recorded live at Mount Pleasant's All Souls Unitarian Church with saxophonist Stan Getz and bassist Keter Betts, that ignited the bossa nova craze of the 1960s. Joining Andrade and Byrd for some crisp and creative solos was flutist Herbie Mann, a musician long associated with both Afro-Cuban and Brazilian jazz fusion. The exquisite trio returned to contribute mightily to the final minutes of the program, fueling flashes of Byrd's quiet virtuosity and Mann's witty funk.