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Singer and sax team up for bossa nova magic at SFJAZZ

Claudia Villela
Claudia Villela
Claudia Villela

Brazil was shocked, angered, heartbroken and genuinely puzzled over its recent World Cup loss, but at least part of the reason should be obvious: Blame it on the bossa nova. When such a carefree, sensuous sound is part of your national DNA, it just has to be ridiculously hard to keep up the attitude of bloodthirsty competitiveness high-level FIFA success requires.

That theory comes courtesy of SFJAZZ, which reminded us of the gentle, hypnotic power of the bossa nova on Sunday with a concert celebrating one of the landmarks of the genre. Singer/pianist Claudia Villela and saxophonist Harvey Wainapel (supported by a crack rhythm section) teamed up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Getz/Gilberto, the album that made bossa nova a global infatuation.

And what a fitting pairing. Hometown hero Wainapel perfectly echoed Getz's mellow tone and restrained style, masterfully nursing and developing the melody on tunes such as "One Note Samba" and "Corcovado" but never heading into show-off territory. He seemed to instinctively understand that less is more with these songs, relying on subtle changes in intonation and phrasing to enhance the effect of the sturdy melodies.

Villela, a Rio de Janeiro native whose spent most of her career in Northern California, was a perfect foil. Her fluid, polished style is powerfully informed by the saxophone and trumpet, a factor most obvious when she turned to scat singing to turn words into cascading layers of notes.

Villela is no slouch as a songwriter, either. She sprinkled the set with original tunes such as the delightfully playful "Brasil Com S," which blended in seamlessly with the Jobim numbers, a noble accomplishment for any songwriter.

For those still humming those Jobim numbers, by the way, note that SFJAZZ will present yet another perspective on Getz/Gilberto in Septemeber, when piano/vocal whirlwind Eliane Elias will team up saxophonist Harry Allen to revisit those tunes and kick off the 2014-15 concert season.