Céu - Vagarosa
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Céu
Vagarosa
Six Degrees Records

It seems Brazil has an endless supply of sexy supermodels, sexy soccer players and, it turns out, sexy young singers who effortlessly swing as they softly seduce. The latest in that enviable line of exports is Céu, whose second album both confirms and denies her role as the latest Girl from Ipanema. While Céu's smooth alto and languorous sound evoke bossa nova, she doesn't rely on bossa's underlying samba rhythm. The 29-year-old singer is obviously a contemporary woman who likes rap, reggae, R & B and electronica.

She opens the album with an acoustic backyard samba, but the nostalgia lasts only 55 seconds, dissolving into crackles like a vinyl LP. She eases into "Cangote" with a spare reggae beat, a sleepy retro organ and assorted electronic curlicues. It's like bed-head hair that's been painstakingly tussled. It's as if she is too modern for straightforward, old-fashioned seduction, so she tosses in electronic non sequiturs to pull the rug out from listeners ready to fall into romance like an overstuffed couch. These odd bits can be like salt on your margarita glass or sand in your suntan oil, though listeners are apt to become acclimated.

Ironically, her own ironic cool and electronic trickery bring to mind Tom Jobim's "Desfinado," which tacitly defended bossa against critics who declared it unmusical: "It's a crooked song, ah/But my heart is there." Ultimately, though, there is no denying the seductive, late-night vibe. "Vagarosa" means "leisurely" and the album certainly sashays as it delivers its understated grooves. It's not far from her eponymous debut, which was nominated for a Grammy, a Latin Grammy, and was eventually sold on Starbucks' Hear Music label.

Born Maria do Céu Whitaker Poças, Céu grew up in Sao Paolo, listening to a variety of music, particularly older Brazilian styles. Living in New York City when she was eighteen, she picked up American influences and Vagarosa often sounds it. "Comadi" is simmering funk with Céu singing in the richer part of her low range accompanied by a quietly urgent electric guitar. The balmy sway of "Bubuia" has plush choral vocals behind a cooing Céu, but "Nascente" cuts in with its trippy sounds and rubbery rhythm. It's a characteristically low-key, but bracing juxtaposition.

Céu then is an iconoclast in the bossa tradition, but one who embraced quirky electronica instead of sophisticated jazz. And like the best of Brazilian popular musicians, she's a musical omnivore who takes in the world, adds a bit of Brazilian playfulness and makes it all her own. - Marty Lipp

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