It was "Sing Along with Tania" when Brazilian singer/keyboardist Tania Maria headlined at the Wiltern Theatre on Friday. On all but one of the spirited, piquant tunes that made up her brief five-song set--she seemed to want to get on, and get off--Maria cajoled audience members to sing or hum series of phrases that she had just played (on either piano or synthesizer) or sung. This sort of musical tag, which shifted between good fun and dull city, ultimately disrupted the flow of her performances.
"Euzinha," typical of her complicated yet melodic renditions, began with a repeated bass and rhythm vamp, on top of which she soon sang in Portuguese. Maria broke off from her lyrics to play a brief solo, where she sometimes sang the notes while simultaneously executing them. Bolstered by the backing crew of Leo Traversa, bass, Alex Acuna, drums, and Laudir Oliveira and Steve Thornton, percussion, Maria soon reached a bubbling climax, from which she dropped suddenly to a much quieter tone. She repeated this process several times in a given tune, intermixing it with the sing-along portions.
On the provocative "Valeu," she was at her best, juxtaposing dark, rich piano chords with her voice, as if they were two different instruments. She closed with a favorite, "Come with Me." Less cheerleading and more straightforward music would have made a better show.
Pieces of a Dream--James Lloyd, piano, Cedric Napoleon, bass and vocals, Curtis Harmon, drums--preceded Maria with a set of jazz/funk that was as tasteless as it was exuberantly received. The more excessive Lloyd's screeching synthesizer whinings, bluesy repeated riffs and pounded phrases became, the louder his fans cheered.
Among the tunes he bruised was Monk's " 'Round Midnight," and while hearing the lovely ballad delivered with a heavy back-beat and stilted funk arrangement was bad enough--though somehow the song is built well enough to survive such an assault--Lloyd's cliche-ridden, leaning-toward-mania solo was even worse. To be fair, he played a cocktail-ish version of "The Shadow of Your Smile" that, sans grandstanding, was not bad.
Pianist David Benoit's quartet opened the evening with jazz/pop/fusion tunes that ranged from the pretty "Kay's Tune," where the leader offered lines that were perhaps a bit too sweet, to Chick Corea's "Gotta Match," where Benoit and reed man Sam Riney played as fast as they could, and often with effect.