When Vinicius Cantuaria, the veteran Brazilian singer, composer and guitarist, performed at the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club on Thursday night, his fascination with innovative American jazz was nearly as evident as his roots in Rio. The performance was seductive, all right, but it was often surprising and adventurous, too.
Like Bill Frisell, his American counterpart and occasional collaborator, Cantuaria is more interested in soundscapes than song forms. Currently touring with a quartet, he used a hollow-body electric guitar equipped with a whammy bar and some digital effects to help produce an intriguing array of small-combo orchestrations, variously colored by samba, bossa nova, tropicalia, fusion jazz and pop influences. Electronic loops filled the air one moment, a chorus of rattling tambourines the next.
Cantuaria's sparse finger-style guitar technique emphasized shimmering notes, gliding double stops, vibrato-tinged chords and lingering silences. The vintage Gilberto Gil hit "Procissao" quickly revealed his flair for sustaining a soulful, emotionally yearning mood. But at other times Cantuaria poured on the charm, especially when enticing the crowd to contribute harmonies to Antonio Carlos Jobim's tale of moonlight romance, "Ela E Carioca."
The rhythmic ante was upped on a few tunes, including "Cubanos Postizos," a vibrant blend of son, funk and jazz fusion featuring bassist Paul Socolow, drummer Paulo Braga and percussionist Marivaldo Dos Santos. Among other things, the rhythm section's chattering interplay and Socolow's electric-bass grooves prevented Cantuaria's whispery croon from wearing out its welcome.
-- Mike Joyce