When I was compiling Nu Brazil (Volume 1) in the late 90s, my aim was to reach those more thoughtful listeners who had tired of the old ‘beach/bossa/bikini’ diet being peddled by most major record companies. It was a formula that proved popular, leading to many more similar compilations over the following years.

I wanted to include new music from Bahia in Nu Brazil, naturally, but preferably not yet another permutation of samba-reggae or Tropicália both of which, in my opinion, had already been milked for all they were worth.

That’s when Jussara Silveira first came to my attention. I was aware that she had taken part in a collective tribute to the Bahian samba legend Batatinha, but had yet to produce a record of her own. Then a few months later, a Brazilian friend passed me a copy of Jussara’s 1997 debut solo album on the Dubas record label. I was instantly captivated. Perhaps most attractive to me was the fact that she was from Bahia, but not of Bahia. She was eschewing ‘obvious ‘ Bahian music in favour of a more discrete- yet soulful- approach to a wider repertoire. One could discern hints not only of a young Maria Bethania, but also of a timeless Nara Leão. And the real ‘earcatcher’ was the refreshingly broad repertoire. Bahia both old (Batatinha’s Espera) and modern (Caetano’s Dama do Cassino) were present. But so also were a sort of fado Napolitano (Tuzé de Abreu’s extraordinary Orientação), lusophone Africa (Antônio Risério/Roberto Mendes’ Oxotocanxoxô) and carioca swing and poetry (respectively, Luiz Melodia and Chico Buarque).

And then came the less familiar material: two compositions by cult songwriters Beto Pellegrino and Ariston, one a lush ballad, the other with a caipira flavour that brought to mind Bahian cancioneiros from the interior, like Xangai, Elomar and Mão Branca; a song from the ultra-sophisticated pen of José Miguel Wisnik…and so on. To make matters even better, the entire project had been overseen by Luiz Brasil , someone who was already a favourite guitarist of mine, but also someone who was to play an important part in Jussara’s career in the years to follow.

From the outset, then, Jussara and Luiz had set the bar formidably high: could they maintain the quality in subsequent work without the usual compromises that too many artists make after the first album?

Fortunately, the answer -in the positive- came clear and loud in subsequent work: 1998’s Canções de Caymmi; her first Maianga album Jussara (2002); and more recently, Nobreza, another wonderful joint enterprise with Luiz Brasil which is, if anything, even more impressive than the 1997 debut and undoubtedly Jussara’s most fully-realised work to date.

Nobreza cements the already substantial body of cooperações between Jussara and Luiz to the extent that it will be hard in future to think separately of these two most complementary of talents. Luiz, the sole accompanist throughout the thirteen selections, is a devastatingly effective player in any context, never allowing his consummate sense of colour, tempo and ornamentation to obscure the light and shade of Jussara’s delicate interpretations. Rather, the voice and guitar feed from each other until one becomes unaware of the disparate qualities of the two elements.

In Nobreza, once again, we have the exemplary versatility of repertoire. The title track starts the proceedings – an understated version of the beautiful Djavan composition that we first heard on the author’s underrated 2004 album Luz, saved from evanescence by Jussara’s haunting treatment here.

Then comes diversity in all its glorious colours: some familiar (Caetano’s Os Passistas, Anibal and Eden Silva’s timeless samba Rosa Maria); some almost unknown (Paulo Vanzolini’s Cara Limpa, a melancholy A-minor jazz ballad that reminded me of a young Ella Fitzgerald singing from the Cole Porter songbook).

There follow a couple of international compositions that, over time, have somehow come to belong to the Brazilian canon on long leasehold – Tango Russo and Nara Leão’s classic verses to the Glenn Miller melody that everyone knows (Um Sonho de Verão). Both classics sound limpidly perfect in this simple voice-guitar setting.

Although considered by many to be Brazil’s foremost bolero composer, Lupicinho Rodrigues’ melodramatic work needs a firm hand and decisive voice to rescue it from its innate ‘antique’ qualities: Jussara and Luiz fulfil the task admirably with their reading of Quem Há de Dizer, to the extent that it could almost be a hit from a recent off-off-Broadway production.

Jussara continues her close association with the pens of Beto Pellegrino and Ariston – Eu Vou Te Esquecer – and Zé Miguel Wisnik (Baião de Quatro Toques). But perhaps the most characteristic touch in the album is the deconstructed nod to Salvador Carnival’s old days – Dodo e Osmar’s Pombo Correio – followed closely by an acknowledgment (and inclusion) of the new king of soteropolitano musical expression, Carlinhos Brown.

So, that’s Nobreza – a work of consummate skill, beauty and dedication: qualities that we have come to expect as the norm from Jussara Silveira and her partner in rhyme Luiz Brasil. And if you get the opportunity, I urge you to catch Jussara in live performance. There is a warmth and joy in her physical presence that no amount of recording-studio wizardry can replicate. Recently there has been much heart-searching in the Brazilian press: ’Whither MPB?’ The complaint is that year after year, the same old rhythms and repertoire dominate the airwaves for a majority for whom Carnaval is the be-all and end-all.

But as long as there are artists of the calibre of Jussara Silveira and Luiz Brasil, I’m personally not too worried about the future of top-quality Brazilian music-making. How about you?

www.latinvibe.co.uk / www.john-armstrong.co.uk

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