Despite a career that dates back to 1979, Brazilian singer-songwriter Rosa Passos didn’t garner much attention in the U.S. until her stellar performance on Yo-Yo Ma’s Obrigado Brazil, from 2003, and this year’s Obrigado Brazil Live in Concert. Those albums, which collected bossa nova classics and burnished them anew via the classical cellist and a group that included clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera and percussionist Cyro Baptista, showed Passos to be a sensitive interpreter of song, one possessing a passion that disquieted with its surprising stillness.
Passos sang these songs as if imprinted in her DNA: The Bahia native in fact grew up idolizing João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, the two most responsible for the shaping of bossa nova and its eventual seduction of the world. Her admiration isn’t unique. Her uncanny ability to engage complacent connoisseurs is.
Passos gets her chance to show her skills to an audience largely oblivious to her stature in Brazil. Amorosa, her Sony Classical and American solo debut, showcases her voice, precise guitar work and stellar arrangements.
The realization that Ma underutilized Passos on Obrigado Brazil becomes immediately apparent. That album was Ma’s showcase, to be sure, but bringing Passos front and center more often would have given the otherwise satisfying album soul it sometimes lacked. No such problem exists on Amorosa. Deeply felt and beautifully performed, Passos’s bossa nova envelops and seduces slowly, confidently. She starts out softly, with Jobim’s sultry gem “Voce Vai Ver.” Passos seems almost shy on the number, yet her voice grows more insistent, a nearly imperceptive change, so that by song’s end, the listener is sure something important was missed. Passos never lets the listener go once she hooks attention; she changes gears gently, moving this way and that with an impressive fluidity.
The arrangement for Jobim’s “Wave” owes more to Stan Getz—of the classics Jazz Samba, from 1962, and 1964’s Getz/Gilberto—than to Jobim, but the natural marriage of jazz and bossa never fails. Pianist Helio Alves, a Gilberto cohort, relishes the jazz runs, and Paulo Paulelli buoys him with steady bass lines. The bassist gets to swing on Almeida/Barbosa’s “Pra Que Discutir Com Madame,” a Gilberto standard; Paulelli provides a playful mouth percussion to Passos’s light-as-air vocals. On “Besame Mucho,” the beloved bolero recorded many times over, Passos forgoes the obvious velvet touches many use, instead laying bare the longing imbedded in every word. The violins threaten to shatter the spell, but Passos keeps it earthbound, investing each note with naked want.