The pairing of visionary Japanese keyboardist Ryuichi Sakamoto and the husband-and-wife team of singer Paula and cellist Jacques Morelenbaum is the kind of inspired collaboration that one would have never thought of, and yet makes perfect sense after the fact. At the Knitting Factory, it was obvious that Sakamoto and the Morelenbaums — augmented by subtle touches of guitar and percussion — delight in each other’s company. Playing the piano with remarkable elegance, Sakamoto smiled like a boy in a candy store whenever he got a chance to perform bossa nova standards penned by the late Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Last year, the trio got together in the Brazilian house of the Jobim and recorded “Casa,” a melancholy, heartfelt tribute to the bossa nova pioneer. The Morelenbaums had collaborated on a number of Jobim projects before the composer’s death. Sakamoto, on the hand, has expressed his love for Brazilian music in most of his eclectic solo output.
An austere recording, “Casa” focuses on the more somber side of Jobim’s emotional universe; behind the bubbly, sunny-day-at-the-beach textures, there was a always a disquieting, mournful aspect to the maestro’s music. Add to it Sakamoto’s fixation with the French impressionists (Debussy, Ravel, et al) and the music begins to sound a bit monochromatic halfway through the album.
At first, the show followed a similar pattern, focusing on lesser known Jobim nuggets and creating a static mood of icy perfection. Had she been born in Portugal, Paula Morelenbaum would have been the ultimate fado chanteuse.
Fortunately, the group detached itself from this taciturn atmosphere, ending the show with a delightful series of bossa classics, from “A Felicidade” and “Desafinado” to “Agua de Beber.” Sakamoto’s playing became progressively jazzier, Paula showed she possesses plenty of swing and good humor, and her husband joined her for some impromptu vocalizing.