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Joyce & Donato Aquarius Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Brazilian bossa nova that flaunts its retro roots to sleepy effect.

Colin Irwin 2010

Joyce is Joyce Moreno, a national treasure in Brazil, who’s been a star since the 1960s and was once described by bossa nova legend Antonio Carlos Jobim, no less, as “one of the greatest singers of all time”. Donato is veteran pianist/arranger João Donato, revered as one of the defining figures in bossa nova and one of the few Brazilian musicians still around reflecting its true spirit.

The result of their collaboration is an unerringly gentle and laidback collection that shuns the modern stylisations and Latin fusions invariably foisted on this area of music in the constant quest to draw in new generations and attract international appeal. Aquarius, which might have been recorded at any time over the last half century, stands staunchly in the way of that particular flight path; it sounds deliberately, defiantly – yet unnaturally – retro as a result.

They even re-visit a couple of their own greatest hits, as if to emphasise that here’s an album unashamed, nay flag-wavingly proud, to flaunt roots that are deeply embedded in an earlier era. Originally released in 1980, the song Feminina marked Joyce’s international breakthrough, but here it’s stripped of its previous joyous vigour in a more thoughtful and sombre arrangement that exudes intricate intimacy, but is likely to leave younger audiences deeply underwhelmed. They also return to one of Donato’s most famous pieces on Amazonas 2 but, despite Joyce’s appealing vocal, it still sounds somewhat desultory alongside its previous more full-blooded jazz incarnation. Whether designed as homage to a previous era, an insight into the styles that shaped modern Brazilian music or simply a nostalgic recreation of an organic blend of cultural traditions, it fails to excite or intrigue in the manner we assume they hoped. A couple of the new songs, notably Guarulhos Cha Cha Cha, might almost be parody.

That all said, Jobim wasn’t too wide of the mark in his assessment of Joyce’s vocal talents and there are moments here when she shrugs off the restrictive politeness and gentility that generally suffocates the album and sounds as warm, natural and engaging as Ella Fitzgerald. Mostly, though, it’s siesta music.

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