Hearing the Portuguese jazz singer Sofia Ribeiro last weekend at Cornelia Street Café was, for me, a real discovery. She is, to begin with, wonderful in front of an audience, good-naturedly self-effacing, bouyant and open in a way that wends its way through her personality and into her music. The most wistful and reflective of her renditions are tinged with a kind of happiness, of the sort felt for life itself, and there’s an enjoyment in the singing of them that she transmits to the listener.
She is one of those for whom eclecticism is second nature, rather than experimental, going from one genre to another with a blitheness that unites them stylistically while retaining their special qualities. There is Brazilian in her repertory, and tango-bolero (a splendid version of Vete de mí by the brothers Expósito), and fado, the great song type of her homeland. One of those she performed to snaps, pops, and smacks that her pianist, Juan Andrés Ospina, made with his mouth, tongue and cheeks, eschewing, for the whole song, the keyboard. Yet it still had the sad, transporting ache of fado, and moved you as it can and should.
This double track, of enjoyment taken in the music, shared with the audience, along with a seriousness of theme, is something Ribeiro plays with, and asks about. “Did you feel the adversity?” she inquired, after singing “Adversidade.” The house answered with a definitive “Yes!” But you could hear in the tone of the response that the song had not been at all a downer. It was one of many original works (either singly or in collaboration) that she sings, some set to poems and others to her own lyrics. If, as I took the time to do in the few days after hearing her, you browse the translations she provides with Ar, a 2012 CD, the starkness of a number of them stands out, but always with a leavening.
Some of her recordings have a lulling effect that I did not hear live. Her personal qualities give the proceedings a lift, and a great deal of emotional variety, which carry you aloft and along. Her amiability with the musicians – Petros Klampanis (bass) and Rogerio Boccato (percussion), as well as Ospina – is palpable, and that too carries over. Ribiero is infectious, as the best performers are, from her own place and in her own way, as though she values and shares with her music a well-being she finds in the world.
For more on Sofia Ribeiro and upcoming appearances, visit her here.