Brazilian music has contributed a great deal to the melodic expanse of jazz, in terms of both composition and its languid mood, even if the latter quality has resulted in numerous easy-listening albums that smooth over the subtle power of the music. Even Antonio Carlos Jobim, the man responsible for classics like "The Girl from Ipanema," recorded a few albums that paved the way for elevator music.
Kenia, a Brazilian vocalist who received worldwide acclaim in the '80s and '90s and now calls Pittsburgh home, knows the ins and outs of her country's music. On her first album in more than a decade, she sings a cross-section of choro, samba and MPB (Música Popular Brasileria), with a few American ballads thrown in for good measure. César Comarago Mariano, who has won several Latin Grammy awards, arranged Simply Kenia and played keyboards on it. His work keeps the mood subtle, leaving plenty of room for Kenia's hypnotic voice, and the whole set comes across as a strong return for the singer.
"Par, Impar" begins the album firing on all cylinders. Accompanied at first by only an acoustic guitar, Kenia sings with crisp diction that exudes a sensual feeling regardless of whether you understand the language. When the piano, bass, drums and percussion join in, it takes that mood to a higher level. "Lamentos" offers a take on the early 20th-century song style choro, which has a languid quality that still manages to keep a fire going.
Kenia also interprets the Willie Nelson-penned Patsy Cline tune "Crazy," in English as well as Portuguese and Spanish (the latter two versions appear as bonus tracks). She offers a fresh take on the classic, slowing it down and switching the rhythm from a country beat to something more compatible with her style. The same goes for "Angel Eyes," the cry-in-your-beer saloon number made popular by Frank Sinatra. Kenia rids the song of excessive pathos, but leaves it with a melancholy sense of intrigue.