Boppin’ to Claudia Villela at the SFJAZZ Center

Friday night Becky and I went to the city to hear Claudia Villela at the SFJAZZ Center. After some incredible Maine Scallops and Hog Island Oysters at the Hayes Street Grill, we made our way about a block to the Jazz Center. Even though we were members when the SFJAZZ Center opened in 2013, this was our first trip to the new venue. Now, I didn’t say it was the first time we had tickets. Every time we had tickets one of us was sick or injured. I even broke my leg to keep from going to hear Diana Krall, and even worse, an asthma attack kept me from hearing Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck. Anyway, enough whining, the SFJAZZ Center is a very special jazz hall.

Claudia Villela treated us to a night of unforgettable music. It was the kind of performance that when you leave, you want to tell everyone you see how great it was. This is what a musical event should be like, and by the way, it should also be what our home audio system gives us at least a taste of.

Back to Claudia Villela, she was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro. She has lived in the Santa Cruz, California area since the mid-1980s. Her concert featured the music of Elis Regina, Villa Lobos, Jobim and her own originals. You should also know that she sings mostly in Portuguese, but she interprets lyrics with such emotion and power that it didn’t matter to me. What she can do with her voice is amazing. She can create the thump of a drum, the call of a flute and the twang of a guitar. She is also the most inventive scat singer.

She started the concert with some of the most remarkable vocalese I have ever heard. She started light and playful and gradually moved to a towering voice that was both soulful and beautiful. The musicians that accompanied her were equally talented. Vitor Gonçalves played piano and accordion. His piano playing always seemed to paint a beautiful palette behind her voice. Jeff Buenz played a very soulful guitar, and Celso Alberti’s performance on drums and percussion was simply spectacular. Gary Brown’s six-string electric bass set the foundation for the numbers in a most satisfying way.

About half way through the performance, she moved over to the piano, and Gonçalves moved over and sat down and picked up the largest accordion I have ever seen. He also got the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard out of this accordion while she played with real emotion and expression.

In closing I’d like to share quotes from three other publications. San Francisco Chronicle critic Phil Elwood enthused, “Villela doesn’t just sing – she actually dances with her voice on top of Brazilian beats.” Downbeat Magazine said of Villela, “…arguably the most intriguing outing of the latest new-paradigm vocalists is by vocalist Claudia Villela  …Soulful expression steeped in the now, crafting the future sound of jazz.”  The great Bela Fleck simply said, “She is pure music!”