Leny Andrade has a voice as big as the world. It wouldn’t be out of the question, upon first hearing it, to wonder how she’s able to maneuver this weighty instrument through the slippery rhythmic twists and turns of Brazilian music, sambas and bossa novas being all about elision and sibilance. Andrade has strategies to deal with the incongruity between the heft of her voice and the airiness of her music. She starts by having a well-drilled band that relieves her from the burden of carrying more than she has to. She uses rhythmic hits, punctuation, riffs and similar devices as points of reference, then moves her own way. This combination of regimentation and freedom is particularly effective. And like Sarah Vaughn, a woman with a similar gravity of voice to whom she is occasionally compared, Andrade can improvise over chord changes. There’s a sympathetic element in her voice that’s often missing in Vaughn’s, though; Leny Andrade’s delivery is predicated on existential, not purely musical, feelings. A ballad like “Nos” seems to come from a place of profound human experience. “Wave,” sung with the audience as backup vocalists, is fascinating to hear, sung so slowly that each word is stretched to its furthest reach. The scat section is nothing short of primal, yet Andrade moves effortlessly back first to a gentle verse, then a weightless improvised section, and finally an enthusiastic out chorus. It’s a stunning tour de force. Part of the effect of The Best Of (Live) is cumulative. Tune by tune, Leny puts together an image of a certain type of life. This is, of course, her life. And, like all great artists, she is able to connect the elements of her own life to the lives of whoever is listening to her. When you hear a song like “Saudade Fez um Samba,” you recognize quotidian inevitability to it; it feels like real life. And when Leny Andrade sings “Rio,” that real life seems very good indeed.
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