Brazilian icon Rosa Passos was at the top of her game as a performer during her most recent visit to New York City. Backed by a band that crafted every song to fit her delivery -Celso de Almeida (drummer), Rodrigo Ursaia (saxophone), Helio Alves (piano), and Paulo Paulelli (bassist) -Passos's performance was all the more special thanks to the stunning setting of the Allen Room looking out over Central Park. The Bahia-born singer took the stage with “Ginga Morena," which is an up-tempo samba that was the perfect warm-up for the set that mostly showcased material from her latest disc Romance (Telarc).
After quickly introducing the band, she continued with Djavan's “Alibi,” singing in the trademark girlish whisper that has dubbed her “the female João Gilberto” in the Brazilian bossa nova scene. Next was “Preciso Aprender a Ser Só,” a song made popular by Gilberto Gil in the 1970s. During the tune, Helio Alves's solo was so powerful that it inspired Passos to lean on the piano, absorbing every note.
Most of the musicians left the stage as Passos picked up her acoustic guitar for a subtle version of “Só Danço Samba,” which featured Paulelli on acoustic bass and mouth percussion. It was an intimate moment that gave Passos the opportunity to scat jazz-like through the melody. Paulelli then took over with an impressive solo that prompted loud applause from the audience. The traditional bossa nova material continued with “Pra Que Discutir Com Madame” (with Passos on guitar),a humorous tune with lyrics that tell the story of a high society lady who believes that samba is a wild beat that is a fodder for alcohol-fueled chaos.
The band returned for two original Passos numbers: “Verão” was a groovy jazz-infused samba that celebrates the coming of summer while also lending itself to plenty of improvisation and then there was “Pequena Musica Noturna,” which was a more traditional samba. The set closed with “Vivo Sonhando,” an oft-recorded Jobim samba whose upbeat feel contrasted with the lyric's sad longing for an unrequited love.
Overall, Paulelli (who also wrote the arrangements for most of the tunes on the new disc) was having an inspired night, almost steal