Leny Andrade at Ronnie Scott’s, W1
No wonder Tony Bennett called her the Ella Fitzgerald of Brazil. At 71, Leny Andrade isn’t quite the singer she once was — the voice is huskier, the range is narrower — yet this rare visit to Soho was mesmerising all the same. While Ella may have been able to turn her hand to bossa nova, to hear Andrade perform the same material was a reminder of how much can be lost in translation — not just in terms of lyrics, but in subtlety of rhythms too.
Vou te Contar — a song we know as Wave — was a perfect example. In the wrong hands, it almost always turns into metronomic hotel-lobby muzak; it’s hardly a surprise that many casual listeners assume bossa nova is mere easy listening. Andrade’s trio, led by the cultured pianist Fernando Merlino, underscored her dramatic contralto by constantly stretching and varying the beat. Drummer Erivelton Silva’s ability to fuse a samba and jazz pulse was astonishing; the minimum of exertion yielded the maximum of colour alongside the unusually supple electric bass of Jamil Joanes.
As Andrade slipped from Vivo Sonhando to the bittersweet Outra Vez the years fell away, the lyrics punctuated with sob-like flourishes. O Cantador was a touch cheesy and the scat interludes were a little blurred at times, as if Andrade was recovering from a cold, but none of them outstayed their welcome. Corcovado, another number that can slip into MOR, became the most pensive of soliloquies, the musicians refusing to be upstaged by the thumping beat coming from the club’s venue upstairs. A diminutive figure with an impish sense of humour, Andrade had instantly bonded with the many ecstatic Brazilians in the audience. “Don’t forget me,” she cried at the close. How could we ever do that?