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Elza Soares portrait An explosive samba singer with a gravelly lower range, Elza Soares came into the national spotlight in the early 1960s, just as Brazilian popular culture was making the transition from the staid pop-vocal remnants of the old "radio singers" samba cancao sound into the sleeker, more modern bossa nova style. Like many artists of the time, her own recordings incorporated both genres, adding a dynamic, bluesy-jazzy twist, with just a hint of rock'n'roll in there as well. Early on, her most distinctive trait was a growling, aggressive imitation of American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald's "scat" style, an homage that was later toned down, but crops up frequently in her career. Soares also explored soul and funk themes as these became popular in the late 1960s and early '70s. Here's a quick look at her career...




Discography

Elza Soares "Se Acaso Voce Chegasse" (Odeon, 1960)
(Produced by Ismael Correa)

Elza's first album, recorded with bandleader/arranger Astor Silva...


Elza Soares "A Bossa Negra" (Odeon, 1961)
(Produced by Ismael Correa)

Great stuff! A big band-and-salsa-tinged take on the Brazilian samba cancao sound, music that had definitely grown stale by the time this disc came out. Working once again with bandleader Astor Silva, Soares re-works oldies from the 1930s, '40s and '50s, giving them a rhythmic punch that lands it all somewhere between Lucio Alves and Ella Fitzgerald, with a strong hint of Carmen Miranda thrown in as well. I'm not sure how "bossa" one could actually consider this disc -- Soares was pals with the key members of the early bossa nova scene, but this disc is very much rooted in the pre-Jobim era, and the rowdy, jazz-tinged gafieira style. Anyway, it's a very good record. Most of the songs on here wound up collected on the Meus Momentos collection (reviewed below), and a 2003 reissue on the Dubas label has classy, informative packaging, and is probably the version to track down. Highly recommended.


Elza Soares "O Samba E Elza Soares" (Odeon, 1961)
(Produced by Ismael Correa)

A fun, lively album, with perky pop-samba tunes arranged by bandleader Astor Silva, who's kind of old-school, but still a little hip. Many of the songs were samba-cancao golden oldies, but there's a also a whiff of newer material, such as Tom Jobim and Blilly Blanco's "Acho Que Sim." Monsueto Menezes duets on a couple of tracks, including his novelty scat, "Ziriguidum," which sufferes here under the weight of Astor's blatting brass arrangements, but is still a groovy little tune. All in all, this is a fun album, although it's a bit staid and static. Elza's such a cheerful presence, though -- hard not to love her!


Elza Soares "Sambossa" (Odeon, 1963)
(Produced by Jose Ribamar & Milton Miranda)

The EMI-Odeon house style, typified by producer Milton Miranda, kicks in here, and many of the arrangements are both overly perky and a bit too novelty-oriented. Soares sings well, but she's overshadowed by the busy orchestrations and goofy production touches. It's okay, in a nostalgia-trip kind of way, but the groove keeps getting interrupted by extraneous touches. Features a version of Billy Blanco's "Maria, Maria, Maria," along with a few other bossa standards, such as "So Danco Samba."


Elza Soares "Na Roda De Samba" (Odeon, 1964)
(Produced by Milton Miranda & Lyrio Panicalli)

A lively, high-powered album matching Soares's irrepressible vocals with groovy, jazzy gafieria backing from Severino Araujo and his band... The whole album features A-list studio talent: producer Milton Miranda is joined by Lyrio Panicalli and the Odeon studio crew... The results are first-rate: Elza's in fine form, and the music matches her mood, and her talent. Most of the songs are by (now) obscure composers -- of note are contributions from Orlandivo (the title track, "Na Roda De Samba") and Rildo Hora... Some inventive arrangements amid the standard-issue, big band-y samba-pop, but mostly it's about the feeling of the music: Elza's caught fire, and the guys at EMI are zeroing in on her wavelength. Fun stuff!


Elza Soares "Um Show Da Elza" (Odeon, 1965)
(Produced by Milton Miranda & Lyrio Panicalli)

In Brazilian music, the term "show" usually means a live performance, so you'd imagine that this would be a live album... Strangely, it isn't, although with the high proportion of material from classic, canonical composers -- including Atualfo Alves, Ary Barroso, Dorival Caymmi, Lupicino Rodrigues and Tom Jobim -- I think this was meant to be representative of what her live shows were like. Unfortunately, although the repertoire is all first-class, the backing by Maestro Nelsinho is a drab, at least in comparison to her earlier albums. Okay, but not great.


Elza Soares "Com A Bola Branca" (Odeon, 1966)
(Produced by Milton Miranda & Lyrio Panicalli)

The Odeon crew wer really getting into the swing of things by the time Soares laid this one down... The downbeat is getting a bit funkier and jazzier, and the horn arrangements have loosened up a bit. Seems she finally hit a groove with Nelsinho and his crew... Some tracks, like "Quizumba" and "Deixa A Nega Gingar" are a real blast, while others are a bit more by-the-numbers. Overall, though, this is a strong album, fun from start to finish.


Elza Soares "O Maximo Em Samba" (Odeon, 1967)
(Produced by Milton Miranda & Lyrio Panicalli)

Hmmmm. This one's quite a bit brassier and more shrill-sounding... I wasn't wild about it, but I guess it's okay. A little too aggressive for my tastes, although Soares does deliver some powerful vocals.


Elza Soares & Miltinho "Elza, Miltinho E Samba" (Odeon, 1967)
(Produced by Milton Miranda & Lyrio Panicalli)

This was Elza's first duet pairing with samba-cancao elder Miltinho, a veteran performer with Anjos do Inferno and other classic vocal groups... It's a solid effort, though a bit stagey and reserved, especially in comparison to her solo work. But it also demonstrates her range, and her connection to samba's historical past, with songs from Haroldo Barbosa, Herivelto Martins, Noel Rosa, Ismael Silva and several less well-know composers of the pre-bossa era... A nice window onto an antiquated style, and an intriguing snapshot of Miltinho midway through his latter-years solo career. (After recording three albums with Soares, he went on to do a series of duet records with Doris Monteiro...) I wasn't blown away by this one, but it's certainly worth checking out if you're into the whole "radio singers" thing...


Elza Soares & Wilson Das Neves "Baterista: Wilson Das Neves" (Odeon, 1968)
(Produced by Milton Miranda & Lyrio Panicalli)

One of Soares' strongest, most groove-laden albums, made with the assist of drummer Wilson Das Neves. This album was sampled from liberally for the Meus Momentos collection below, notably songs such as "Palhacada," "Se Acaso Voce Chegasse," and "Edmundo," (a Brazilianified version of "In The Mood," with a chaotic, swinging beat). Soares was making a strong bid to be a Brazilian sambadelic version of Ella Fitzgerald, and actually she did a pretty good job of it! Recommended.


Elza Soares "Elza, Miltinho E Samba, v.2" (Odeon, 1968)
(Produced by Milton Miranda & Lyrio Panicalli)


Elza Soares "Elza, Carnaval E Samba" (Odeon, 1969)
(Produced by Milton Miranda & Lyrio Panicalli)

Superb samba accompaniment, melded to a slightly frantic brass band (with a too-prominent trombone and bass saxophone combo...) Her voice is, frankly, a bit grating on most of this album, but the cuica-and-pandeiro rhythmic percussion is awesome. Unfortunately, the liner notes don't say who the musicians were -- Nelsinho is listed as the arranger, but which samba crew they got to join his band is anyone's guess. At any rate, this is a pretty interesting record... The closing number, "Se E Pecado Sambar," is perhaps the single best song on here, where all the elements -- including her voice -- work perfectly together.


Elza Soares "Elza, Miltinho E Samba, v.3" (Odeon, 1969)
(Produced by Milton Miranda & Lyrio Panicalli)


Elza Soares "Sambas E Mais Sambas" (Odeon, 1970)
(Produced by Milton Miranda & Lyrio Panicalli)


Elza Soares "Pede Passagem" (Odeon, 1972)
(Produced by Milton Miranda & Lyrio Panicalli)

Her bell-bottomed portrait on the album's cover heralds, to a limited degree, Soares's delving into the hippie-delic tropicalia fad. Turns out it's mostly cosmetic; she croons like Maria Bethania on a few tunes, but at heart this is an upbeat samba album, of the sort Soares excelled at. Most of the arrangements on this album are somewhat kitschy, but they also reflect an undercurrent of the bubbling-up of the Brazilian soul scene: jazz-soul pianist Dom Salvador was a pioneer of the Brazilian funk scene, and towards the album's end, he gets a good groove or two going, notably on "Amor Perfeito," which has one of the coolest bass lines early '70s MPB had to offer. Many of the composers were relatively off the beaten track, folks such as Tuze de Abreu, Joao So, Jocafi and prog-rocker Ze Rodrix (along with some of the usual suspects: Vinicius, Jorge Ben, Gonzaguinha...) I like how peppy Soares sounded, although I have to admit this disc had more than its fair share of awkward passages. Still, I'd recommend it... Lots of folks (particularly in Europe) consider it a stone-cold classic.


Elza Soares & Roberto Ribeiro "Sangue, Suor E Raca" (Odeon, 1972)
(Produced by Milton Miranda & Lyrio Panicalli)

A fine, funky samba album, with Elza continuing to explore new textures and modern rhythms. Singer Roberto Ribeiro, from the Imperio Serrano samba school, makes his recording debut as an able duet partner, helping ground Elza's normally dramatic vocals in a calmer, cooler, sexier mode. There are several longer "potpourri" medleys on here, a format I generally dislike, although here the melodies are all given a full, lush reading, and the musical end is quite lovely. All in all, a warm, inviting album, with pianist Dom Salvador back on board as arranger and bandleader. Lovely stuff... a few songs a bit on the staid side, but for the most part, a career highlight... Worth checking out!


Elza Soares "Elza Soares" (Odeon, 1973)
(Produced by Milton Miranda & Lyrio Panicalli)

Elza's last album with Odeon found her teamed up with much of the same studio talent as before -- Milton Miranda, Lyrio Panicalli, sound engineer Z. J. Merky -- and a lively, aggressive take on the new "pagode" samba style being pioneered by Clara Nunes and Beth Carvalho. Elza's approach includes nods towards her jazzy background, with Satchmo-esque snarls that anticipate the cuddly-but-tough sound of Alcione. It's a good, solid album, but like many in the genre, it starts to sound a bit monochromatic, and the hard-driving rhythm gets tiring after a while. Not a bad swan song, though, for her long run with Odeon... and a nice hint of things to come.


Elza Soares "Elza Soares" (Tapecar, 1974)
(Produced by Ed Lincoln & Jose Xavier)

Her first album over at Tapecar paired Elza with pianist Ed Lincoln, who had kind of a rockin', soul-swinging past. That side of Lincoln's career isn't so much in evidence here -- Elza keeps on the path she'd started out, shifting away from gafieria and jazz-tinged sambas towards a rootsier sound -- they've even got her seated in a wicker chair and wearing one of the same sort of Afro-Bahian frocks that Clara Nunes favored at the time. The arrangements are still a bit on the overly-perky side, but she was clearly intent on giving Nunes a run for her money, and does an admirable job. Some of the slower songs are clunky -- she has a pretty hefty voice that works better when wrapped around a rhythm than trying to phrase a hushed melody, though on the other hand, she's not getting all slushy and popped-out the way Clara did when she slowed down the pace, so in some ways this sounds better. Anyway, this is really nice stuff... Worth checking out!


Elza Soares "Nos Brancos Do Samba" (Tapecar, 1975)
(Produced by Ed Lincoln & Jose Xavier)

Here, the makeover into a roots-samba diva is complete and quite convincing... Soares gets slinky and soulful, with some wonderful, utterly authentic batucada percussion woven in throughout the record. This is really fine stuff, right up there with Clara's best work. Elza keeps the pace up, and the band (wish they were credited!) is totally solid. Also, no egregious dips into pop or romantic schmaltz, just solid samba from end to end. Highly recommended!


Elza Soares "Licao De Vida" (Tapecar, 1976)
(Produced by Ed Lincoln & Jose Xavier)

She still imitating Clara here, and at last the pop side asserts itself, with a more pronounced soul style emerging in the mix... Saxophonist Paulo Moura plays assists with the arrangements, and much of this record feels a bit like Gonzaguinha's samba-MPB work of the time. Some of it's a bit cloying, but for the most part this is another fine album. Also, her vocal phrasing really seems to have stretched out, and her softer passages work much better than before. Worth checking out!


Elza Soares "Pilao + Raca = Elza" (Tapecar, 1977)
(Produced by Gerson Alves)


Elza Soares "Negra Elza, Elza Negra" (CBS, 1980)


Elza Soares "Somos Todos Iguais" (Som Livre, 1985)
(Produced by Pedrinho Da Luz & Glaucus Xavier; arrangements by Glaucus Xavier)

This album opens on a bizarre note -- Soares, with a notably haggard, age-ravaged voice, keens her way through a stripped-down acoustic samba number; then the funk and soul production kicks in for the rest of the record, covering up some of the deficiencies, although her voice remains a thin echo of what it once was. Perhaps they were hoping for a Tina Turner-ish soul-sister vibe to permeate this disc, but mostly it's like witnessing your granny make a funk record... You have to turn your eyes away when she starts to shimmy around in that shiny vinyl miniskirt. It's just too painful.


Elza Soares "Voltei" (RGE, 1988)
(Produced by Milton Manhaes)


Elza Soares "Trajeitoria" (Universal, 1997)


Elza Soares "Carioca Da Gema - Elza Ao Vivo" (Luna, 1999)


Elza Soares "Do Coccix Ate O Pescoco" (Maianga Discos, 2002)


Elza Soares "Vivo Feliz" (Tratore, 2003)


Elza Soares "Raridades: Sambas E Mais Sambas v.2" (EMI, 2003)
A rarities disc included in the Negra box set, listed below.


Elza Soares "Beba-Me" (Biscoito Fino, 2007)
(Produced by Jose Miguel Wisnik)

This live album is the companion disc to a concert DVD by the same name, also out on the Biscoito Fino label... Produced by Jose Miguel Wisnik, who worked with Soares on her Do Coccix Ate O Pescoco album a few years earlier.


Elza Soares "Beba-Me" (DVD) (Biscoito Fino, 2003)




Best-Ofs

Elza Soares "Meus Momentos" (EMI, 1999)
An outstanding 2-CD best of, covering her career from 1960-1973, this is one of the runaway highlights of this excellent budget series. Soares' early work is explosive and dynamic, a peppery mix of Rat Pack-style big band and 40s-style samba. As a vocalist, her brusque, declarative delivery is closer in temprament to Cuba's Celia Cruz than to the pre-bossa Brazilian chantueses, or the stylish MPB singers. As this collection progresses, the instrumentation gets incrementally more ornate, but it never approaches the glossy layered sound of MPB, and stays largely true to its samba roots. HIGHLY recommended -- if you look around, you may also be able to find the older single-disc versions of this collection, which would also be great scores.


Elza Soares "Serie Raizes Do Samba" (EMI, 1999)


Elza Soares "Negra: Elza Soares" (EMI, 2003)
A stunning, definitive CD box set that gathers nearly all of Soares' albums from 1961 to 2003, including an added disc of rarities and singles. The albums are combined, two on each disc, including A Bossa Negra (1961), O Samba E Elza Soares (1961), Sambossa (1963), Na Roda De Samba (1964), Um Show De Elza (1965), Com A Bola Branca (1966), O Maximo Em Samba (1967), Elza, Miltinho E Samba (1967), Baterista: Wilson Das Neves (1968), Elza, Miltinho E Samba, v.2 (1968), Elza, Carnaval E Samba (1969), Elza, Miltinho E Samba, v.3 (1969), Sambas E Mais Sambas (1970), Pede Passagem (1972), Sangue, Suor E Raca (1972), Elza Soares (1973), Elza Soares (1974), Nos Brancos Do Samba (1975), Licao De Vida (1976), Pilao + Raca = Elza (1977), Voltei (1988), and the rarities disc. If you really want to check out her ouvre, this is your best shot.


Elza Soares "O Talento De Elza Soares" (EMI, 2004)


Elza Soares "Retratos" (EMI, 2004)




Video & Other Media

Elza Soares "Beba-Me" (DVD) (Biscoito Fino, 2007)




Links

  • All Brazilian Music has a good profile of Elza, along with a generous discography.. (In English and Portuguese.)




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