Back in 2010, when I began to take a serious interest in bossa nova music, I came across a CD I thought was a recording made by Antonio Carlos Jobim. When I got it home and had a listen, it turned out be Jobim’s music, but recorded after his death by a trio called Morelenbaun2/Sakamoto. At first, I was disappointed, since I was really interested in hearing Jobim play his own compositions. After a cursory run through the tracks on the CD, titled Casa (2001), I put it aside and moved on.

A few weeks later, I still had bits and pieces of Casa floating around in my head. In particular, the trio’s female vocalist, Paula Morelenbaum, had made quite an impression. I started listening to this recording regularly, during dinner, and while I worked. The more I listened, the more I liked it.

A native of Rio de Janeiro, Paula got her professional start in 1980 as a singer in Céu da Boca, a vocal ensemble that recorded two albums during its five year run. She recorded her first solo album, Camerati, in 1992, and in 1994 toured Brazil starring in a performance showcasing Carmen Miranda’s music, which was presented in arrangements Paula created herself.

I was also intrigued because this trio featured Ryuichi Sakamoto on piano. I was familiar with his name, but had never really listened to any of his work until I discovered Casa. What was even more interesting about this recording, is that it was created in Jobim’s house, using his personal piano, in Rio de Janeiro. Each song on Casa conveys a deep love and respect for Jobim and his music. And all the musicians are fantastic.

The third member of the trio was Jaques Morelenbaum, a cellist and husband to Paula. The Morelenbaum’s were in Jobim’s band from 1984 to 1994, so they certainly had an intimate familiarity with the man and his music. When you listen to Casa, that sense of intimacy is undeniable. Despite my initial disappointment, this recording eventually led me to fall in love with bossa nova.

As a side note, Jobim often referred to his group, Nova Banda, as comprising “five beautiful girls, five handsome guys and one dirty old man.” He toured with Nova Banda until the end of his life. He also referred to this band as his “family,” and in fact, he did have some family members with him on stage. Here is Nova Banda, as well as Paula and Jaques, performing in the English version of Águas de Março (Waters of March) from 1986 (Paula is the singer wearing black):

As good as this trio was, for me Paula Morelenbaum is the real star. Her voice is laser sharp, clear and seductive. There isn’t a track on Casa I can’t recommend, but the one that drew me in first is Fotografia (Photograph). If ever there was a way to express the feeling of saudade, this song is it. And as long as we are on the subject of saudade, I can’t forget to mention Inútil Paisagem. Paula is pure emotion on this track, which translates to “Useless Landscape.” The original Brazilian Portuguese lyrics are a lament about a lost love so devastating that even the most beautiful landscapes are no longer able to move the broken heart. This version is comparable to and every bit as wonderful as that sung by Elis Regina on Elis and Tom (1974). If either of these don’t give you goosebumps, you may be beyond all hope.

The Morelenbaum2/Sakamoto trio made two other recordings, Live in Tokyo (2001) and A Day in New York (2003). Here is the trio performing O Amor Em Paz (Once I Loved) from their third album:

Before the Morelenbaum2/Sakamoto trio, Jaques and Paula recorded an album called Quarteto Jobim-Morelenbaum, which included Jobim’s son Paulo on guitar and grandson Daniel on piano. One of my favorite tracks is Meditação (Meditation), sung by Daniel and Paula. Again, the love and emotion that connects these two with Jobim is immediately apparent in this and all tracks on this recording. Here is Quarteto Jobim-Morelenbaum performing Desafinado (Out of Tune):

After her involvement in these groups, Paula went on to record other solo albums, including Berimbaum (2004), of which the song Primavera by Carlos Lyra and Vinicius de Moraes is one of my favorites. This and other solo work, such as Telecoteco (2008), is more contemporary, but still strongly influenced by bossa nova. Paula also recorded a big band album called Bossarenova (2009) and most recently a collaboration with major Brazilian composer João Donato titled Água (2010).

Bossa nova has been described as “the music that seduced the world.” Listening to Paula Morelenbaum will certainly make you understand why. You will fall in love with her voice. Her smooth, vibrato-less technique is near perfection and she has a gift for vocalizing key changes in a striking fashion. I highly recommend Casa, Quarteto Jobim-Morelenbaum and Berimbaum for anyone interested in getting acquainted with this wonderful voice from Brazil.