Heady, windswept, gauzy saudade that could only come from someone like Sonia Angelica De Carvalho Rosa, are things that don’t quite reveal themselves when you hear Samba Amour. Sonia Rosa had an unlikely musical career. Although she was born in São Paulo, Brazil it wasn’t there where’d she stake her claim to fame. A precocious child, she taught herself Joao Gilberto’s songs when she was just 6 years old. Releasing her first record as a teenager presented her a tough choice. Her debut was a bigger hit in Japan than in Brazil. It’s this bit of history, that Sonia had to moved to Japan, at the young age of 16, to pursue her musical career, that would set her path into this intriguing blend of MPB samba soul, mellow City Pop, and gorgeous modal Jazz-Pop. If Brazil wouldn’t know what to make of her, somehow, the Japanese would draw out something special within her.
It was in Japan that Sonia managed to perform at the only club that specialized in bossanova and Brazilian music, a club owned by the father of future Japanese sambista star Lisa Ono. One night, while performing there, she managed to befriend and convince Japanese Jazz giant Sadao Watanabe to produce and arrange her Japanese debut: Sensitive Sound Of Sonia Rosa. In doing so, helping create an album with the unlikeliest distinction of being the first Japanese recorded and arranged album of Brazilian music – by a Brazilian artist. Soon thereafter, Sonia managed to strike up a professional relationship with another Japanese Jazz master Yuji Ohno.
Before he’d go off to create the soundtrack to the anime Lupin the Third or The Castle of Cagliostro, works he is more widely known for, Yuji Ohno would help Sonia try to modernize her take on bossanova. Caught in between Easy Listening and some of the post-bossanova styles floating around her homeland, 1994’s Spiced With Brazil left her in a middle zone trying to move units while trying to not to go too far out on a limb to remain au courant with prevailing styles. That was not a good zone for Sonia to be in. For four long years, before the release of Samba Amour, Sonia shifted to doing commercial and soundtrack work. She simply wasn’t able to unravel what exactly she wanted to do artistically. After this sabbatical, Yuji (fresh off some embryonic recordings with Sonia in Lupin the Third) pitched to Sonia the idea of creating an album of original Brazilian music.
Using the same members of the You & Explosion Band that backed up his work in Lupin the Third, Yuji and Sonia headed into the studio to create this fascinating masterpiece of Japanese-Brazilian music. Touching on the same vein of inspiration present in the funky mellow of Japanese City Pop at the time, Samba Amour shifted the ideas already presented (with the aid of a lot of the session players found here as well) in Taeko Ohnuki’s Sunshower and Tatsuro Yamashita’s Spacy towards even more tropical environs. It appears that this time, these sessions fell under the spell of Jorge Ben’s second act: his shift from sambista to samba funk and samba soul artist. Its an undeniable influence that reveals itself on the gorgeous, slinky opening track “Te Quero Tanto (I Love You So)”.
As that pitch grows increasingly more weedy, sprouted by Sonia’s adopted homeland’s own rhythms, Sonia starts to sing in Japanese publicizing the untapped musical possibilities that others could draw from her own birthplace. “夏のイマージュ (Natsu No Image)” continues the album with a wicked samba that only grows better with every bit of influence added of Japanese sensibility. Funky and nostalgic, the album grows by emphasizing the beauty of its own musical place. When Sonia gives her own try at rarified, mystical AOR mixing English, Japanese, and Portuguese in a track like “Charlie, My Darling” one can’t help but get carried away by the open-hearted windswept sentimentality placed by all her musical players to help Sonia land the dismount. Once you’re into the languid beauty of “Tudo E Voce (All of You)” certain pastoral harmonies open up to wrap you tighter into this album’s charm.
The b-side of Samba Amour grows even more luxurious, attempting to match warmth of golden period MPB music – even if the distance was thousand of miles away. Some highlights “東京イン・ザ・ブルー (Tokyo in the Blue)” a Japanese-sung slice of modal funk, “Ressalva” a sublime take on the Franco-Brazilian music of Nara Leao translated to a different scale, “Tao So… (Always Alone)” a song that recalls the most gorgeous bits of Tom Jobim’s compositions – through one brief, but spectacular swoop of musical change, and a solo reprise of the title track threading bare all the melancholia of the original, grow the stature of this beautiful album. However, my personal highlight is “Socorro Taro! (Help Me, Taro!)”. Gliding where the others perch, the song just cooks with the band’s most heart-pumping musical propulsion, always threatening to explode the song at any moment, but never quite doing so – merely by the power of Sonia’s magnificent understated restraint. I held off sharing this album waiting for the right time to do so, but surely now’s the perfect time for it. Sun’s shining, the weather is sweet, makes you want to move your dancing feet…