Sara Serpa is one of the most distinctive voices in any style of music, and widely regarded as the most original vocalist in jazz. A protegee of legendary noir pianist Ran Blake, vocalese is her thing. She doesn’t often sing lyrics, preferring the role of instrumentalist. But what an instrumentalist! Her hauntingly clear, crystalline soprano made the Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra’s debut album one of the most arresting releases of this past year. She’s got a new duo album, Primavera, with her partner, guitarist/tunesmith Andre Matos and an album release show May 22 at 8 PM at Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow St. in the west village on an excellent doublebill with the similarly inclined Emilie Weibel, who’s releasing her playfully quirky oMoO solo vocal project.
Serpa’s earlier compositions are meticulously constructed, and more shapeshifting and longscale than the terse pieces here. The album opens with the title track, a loopy vocal phrase underpinned by uneasy guitar, down to a lull and then up with a dancing crescendo. Tempo, the first of Matos’ compositions here, is a guarded waltz, a horror film theme minus the strings. It’s good to see Serpa asserting herself as a pianist – on this track, on Fender Rhodes – as well a a singer.
Rios, another Matos number, is a catchy waltz, the opposite of the previous number, but just as catchy, lit up by some frenetic melodica from Leo Genovese. Choro, also by Matos, juxtaposes flitty guitar and Greg Osby soprano sax against Serpa’s resolute vocals. A Serpa original, Kubana is just plain amazing, her soaring, multitracked vocals harmonizing with Matos’ understatedly gorgeous, jangly chords all the way up to a haunting, anthemic conclusion.
Another Serpa original, Song for a Sister is a warm, springlike number, Matos’ spacious, methodical interlude giving way to gently dreamy, shimmery vocals. Caminho, by Matos, brings back a brooding, waltzing theme, a Lynchian summer theme that darkens as it goes along.
Matos and Serpa join for restrained, almost skeletal settings of Alberto Caeiro poems, then Serpa’s Novem works a circular theme that goes swinging with a hypnotic piano/guitar vamp – it’s Wes Montgomery noir, if such a thing can exist. They reinvent the Ran Blake/Jeanne Lee classic, Vanguard, as a spaciously unwinding, uneasily matter-of-fact theme, expanding beyond the luminous mystery of the original. Gardening, by Matos, cleverly morphs from a canon to a dance over a catchy, nonchalant guitar loop. They do Guillermo Klein’s Se Me Va La Luz as an insistent anthem fueled by Matos’ percussive chords and close with a bluesy Serpa setting of an E.E. Cummings [Ha Ha, So There] poem in the same spare, resonant vein as Tin Hat’s versions of that poet’s stuff from a couple of years ago. Up to this point, intensity has been Serpa’s great shining quality; as spare, and sometimes low-key, and fun as this album is, she hasn’t relented, and Matos keeps pace all the way.