Annie Kozuch

Mostly Jobim

Antonio Carlos Jobim wove a magic spell with his music the way few songwriters ever did. He invented bossa nova along with João Gilberto in the late 1950s. Cabaret/ jazz singer Annie Kozuch offers an affectionate tribute to him on her latest album, Mostly Jobim. And, there isn't a bad track here. Yet, some of the tracks don't work as well as others. (Don’t fret; this was also said about some of Sinatra’s most lauded recordings.) Here, on a few tracks, something is missing. Yet, she is a solid stylist and her musicians are truly exceptional. So, what could be wrong?

In a breezy, sometimes feathery voice, Kozuch bravely tackles these songs of the masterful Jobim. No easy task. Classic Jobim requires a certain silky ease that flows like a murmuring brook over complex melodies and lyrics. The late Susannah McCorkle is a fine example of this. She mastered this technique and is well remembered for her pristine accounting of Jobim. And who can forget the legendary Morgana King on a Jobim classic? Her rendition of “Corcovado” is still without peer.

While Kozuch is a sweet-voiced, wistful mezzo, she lacks the requisite simpatico and depth needed for some of this material. The magic of Jobim has baffled some famous singers in the past simply because it is not like ordinary rhythmic songs that they can walk through. This music is rooted in the rain forests of Brazil; it is earthy, intense, poetic and pure bossa nova. In spite of the fact that Kovuch delivers pitch-perfect vocals, they call for more grit to deliver.

But, not enough can be said about the exceptional arrangements that are well conceived with Frank Ponzio at the helm and executed by Sean Harkness (guitar), Cecilia Tenconi (flute and sax), Vito Lesczak (drums) and Saadi Zain (bass). Collectively, it doesn’t get much better. To her credit, Kozuch holds her own against these masters. What is missing in grit is made up for in solid musicianship by this elite ensemble. No quibble there. In fact, it is Ponzio’s blend of subtle bossa nuances and restraint that is at the pulse of the album. This is not a flawed album. Kozuch’s vocals are well delivered. What is missing is that extra something needed to sell Jobim. The lady, who appeared at Feinstein’s last year, is an easy listen and vocally is always pretty. This material may not be her forte. Part of the dilemma stems from surfing through integral parts of a lyric, as on the first two cuts where more dynamics are called for. Opening with “Waters of March” may not have been the wisest choice. At times, such tricky phrasing calls for a muted intensity. It is similar on the second cut, “Wave” where, again, more color is suggested. As might be expected, most cuts are sung in fluent Portuguese. Here, Kozuch is effective and the phrasing more interesting on all levels. This was most evident on “Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar” (“I Know I’ll Love You So”). And, she fares very well on “How Insensitive” (“Insensatez”), nailing these embedded haunting nuances with verve. A confidently sung “Agua de Beber” (which means “Drinking Water”) makes for a terrific closer on this interesting Jobim showcase. In fact, she nails this one better than Sinatra did on his famed collaboration with Jobim in the 1960s. The CD is a good addition for collector fans of Jobim, if only to hear these fine arrangements.

John Hoglund
Cabaret Scenes
June 1, 2013