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Céu Vagarosa Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

An album of immense subtlety and constantly surprising contrasts.

Colin Irwin 2009

It’s impossible to talk about Céu without invoking the names of Astrud and Bebel Gilberto.

Yet, while she may be Brazilian and is clearly in thrall to the samba and bossa nova heritage indelibly associated with those artists, Céu – Maria do Céu Whitaker Poças to give her the full name – draws her inspiration as much from the modern urban vibrancy of São Paulo’s thriving independent scene as Brazil’s sensuous musical history.

This second album is far more ambitious and challenging than its 2005 predecessor, distancing itself boldly from coffee table ambience to incorporate some seriously edgy instrumentation and production techniques courtesy of producers Beto Villares and Gui Amabis and engineer Gustavo Lenza, who keep the album crackling along with an inventive undercurrent of atmospheric soundscapes and technical trickery.

She’s a sublime singer – that’s almost a given – but her eagerness to go beyond her comfort zone and embrace visionary production ideas, as well as some exciting instrumentalists and particularly vivacious rhythms (notably by Pupillo and Dengue of acclaimed Brazilian band Nação Zumbi) is what helps to decimate genre boundaries and give the album real crossover appeal.

The title is translated from Portuguese as “easygoing”, but while Céu herself sounds blissfully chilled throughout, the sparks fly around her. A wonderfully evocative organ growls menacingly among the choppy rhythms of the slightly spooky Cangote, while wah wah guitars add further intrigue to the funky mix of Comadi and drum loops, samples, multi-tracked vocals and scattered snatches of electronica suddenly appear among horns and intoxicating percussion to keep you guessing where it will all go next.

It’s an album of immense subtlety and constantly surprising contrasts. Circus organ duels with electric guitar on Ponteiro, she celebrates the birth of her own daughter with an almost spiritual cover of the Jorge Ben classic Rosa Menina Rosa and uses guest artists to memorable effect, notably Luiz Melodia, who almost steals the album duetting with Céu on the melancholy slow samba Vira Lata.

It oozes class and is Brazilian to the core yet, surreptitiously and almost imperceptibly, guides it to a whole new place.

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