Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Though I’ll always cherish memories of Charlie Byrd, who helped introduce Brazilian music to US audiences, who’d have thought that Washington, DC, had an active Brazilian jazz community today -- or that one of its brightest lights would turn out to be Emy Tseng, who was born in Taiwan, and came to DC by way of Seattle and New York City? But it’s undeniable on the evidence of Sonho, which features Tseng in 11 buoyant cuts, backed by first-rate musicians who would be welcome in any world capital.
Tseng’s lyrical voice can be wistful or joyous, depending on the song. Sure of pitch and full of nuance, she really gets Brazilian rhythms, and vivaciously gives them their due. "Deixa" fairly bubbles over with delicate energy, whereas the classic "California Dreamin’" emerges surprisingly as a wistful ballad of longing. Freddie Hubbard’s "Little Sunflower," which translates into "Helianthella," is successfully sung bossa nova style, while "Berimbau," full of high spirits, stands comparison to Astrud Gilberto’s well-known version.
The album was masterfully produced and mixed by Marco Delmar, and coproduced by Tseng and Matvei Sigalov. Every musician on the disc is as good as any playing today, but special mention must go to Andy Connell, who weaves magical interlacing lines with Tseng’s voice as well as starring in solos on both clarinet ("Deixa," "Coração Vagabundo") and soprano saxophone ("Berimbau," "Brigas Nunca Mai"). Sigalov is sensitive on acoustic guitar and violin ("I Thought About You"), and David Jernigan proves to be a double bassist of distinction.
Sonho closes, appropriately enough, with just Tseng and Jernigan in close harmony on "Close Your Eyes," a track you’ll surely want to hear more than once.
The album was recorded and mixed in the DC area: recorded at Recording Arts, in Fairfax, Virginia, and Back Street Studios in Montgomery Village, Maryland, and mastered by Bill Wolf at Wolf Productions, in Arlington, Virginia. The sound is intimate and detailed but with plenty of warmth, and balances that are ideal. When I lived in DC 40 years ago, one might have had to go out of town to get a good recording and mix. That that’s no longer true is proved by this disc: DC engineers and recording venues are second to none.
Though wistful at times, Sonho is mostly warm and sunny -- the perfect January disc to drive the cold winter away.
. . . Rad Bennett