Joyce Moreno ‘Cool’ CD/DIG (Far Out) 3/5

joyce-morenoA change of approach from Joyce who has been a stalwart of the Far Out label from the mid-1990s onwards. While not the first time that Joyce has sung in English (even before international success at the beginning of the 1990s, she was singing occasional songs in English, as on her live recording in Rio from 1989), it is the first album sung entirely in the language of Shakespeare. Indeed one could argue with some conviction that after so many Brazilian oriented recordings, Moreno is fully justified in shifting gear and it may just be that this temporary shift is beneficial in re-dynamising her creative juices. Whatever the case, this new album is something of a new blessing and while this writer will not criticise the singer for seeking pastures new, it does raise the question of whether singing entirely in English takes away, in part at least, that essential Brazilian ness that is an integral feature of her craft. Can Joyce for example outdo either Nat King Cole, or George Benson or ‘Nature boy’? How does she measure up to other Brazilian singers who have veered down this alternative path, Astrud and Joao Gilberto being notable cases in point? That said, one could counter this argument with the example of Atro Lindsay who has regularly interwoven songs in Portuguese and English. Maybe in his case, his joint anglophone and lusophone roots facilitate communication between the two idioms. Joyce may well feel she is now in a similar position, given her close ties to the UK.

Joyce is at her best when she adapts to her own natural style and the strongest performance of all is reserved for her own composition, ‘Mingus, Miles and Coltrane’, where she actually contributes wordless vocals throughout. This works a treat and compares favourably with anything else she has ever recorded. However, where she falls down slightly is when attempting to vary her reading of a classic by another Brazilian singer. On ‘The shadow of your smile’ she is up against the lush orchestrated Astrud Gilberto interpretation and while Joyce possesses a far wider vocal range than Gilberto, here she takes on the song at an ultra slow tempo, so much so that the number is not immediately recognisable until the main chorus and while there is nothing wrong with manipulating the original, it simply does not have the ‘x ‘factor to wow. Likewise, ‘Nature boy’ is a perfectly decent attempt, taken at a faster tempo than either Benson or Cole, and with a wordless scat section. A lesser singer than Joyce would have balked at attempting a song in English that Joao Gilberto has made into a semi-anthem, ‘You do something to me’, that he recorded in 1990 with the arrangements of Clare Fischer.

Joyce comes into her own on the bossa style guitar phrasings of, ‘My favourite things’, complete with wordless vocal intro. By no means a failed effort, this recording is probably a necessary step for Joyce at this stage of her career and one that enables her to freshen up her music. What would be a positive step to come out of it would be a forthcoming live album that integrates some of the songs on this new recording with her own repertoire, and would thereby demonstrate that the current project is a worthy endeavour, and moreover one that can reap benefits for the future.

Tim Stenhouse