JAZZ REVIEW : Brazilian Festival: Summer Revelry of Rio

The energy and vigor of Brazilian music and culture--a growing undercurrent in the area for the last few years--burst into a full-fledged Los Angeles wave Saturday night. The Second Annual Brazilian Festival arrived at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium with the exhilaration and revelry of a summer carnival in Rio.

There was a little bit of something for everyone. A cluster of Brazilian craft vendors sold everything from handmade jewelry to a colorful collection of Copacabana's revealing bikini bathing suits. Nearby, the Brazilian restaurant Cafe Connection's food stand sizzled with a tempting menu of authentic dishes.

But the real action took place inside the auditorium, where the samba rhythms began pulsating at 8 with Samb'in and continued well into the morning hours with Embrasamba and vocalist Kenia.

Among the early highlights were the invigorating singer Kleber Jorge with his band Brazilliant and the jazz-samba of Samb'in. Another group--Velas--made an interesting if not always successful effort to combine the complexities of jazz fusion with samba.

But a fascinating dance ensemble called the Soul of Brazil Dance Company very nearly stole the show from the musicians. Featuring a startling demonstration of capoeira --a blazingly dynamic mixture of martial arts, dance and gymnastics--the company's 45-minute program was an entrancing display of the animation and spectacle of Brazilian culture.

The star of the festival, Elza Soares, more than lived up to her billing as the "Brazilian Queen of Samba." Singing with the erotic fire of a Chaka Khan and the musical intensity of a Janis Joplin, she brought a strikingly contemporary quality to her many hit songs. On older material--"Manha De Carnival" and "Dindi" were good examples--she imprinted these classic items with a robust, scat-like singing style that was uniquely her own.

Like most good parties, the festival showed no signs of letting up long after the midnight hour had passed. But the message provided by the crowded auditorium and the nonstop array of superb music and dance was crystal clear: The stunningly creative performers of Brazil have become important players on the Southland music scene.

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