One diva short from its initial lineup — Natacha Atlas was a no-show due to visa problems –the fourth edition of the Hollywood Bowl’s Global Divas was instead a gentle breeze of music often associated with Brazil and Portugal that fell lightly on the ears. The Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora treated those musical roots organically, the Brit band Morcheeba, led by singer Skye, handled it electronically, and both bands were models of impressive precision.
Morcheeba, making one of only three U.S. appearances Sunday night, stuck to down-tempo tunes for about two-thirds of its 60-minute set before unleashing a few rock-flavored numbers, including Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.” Band’s latest album, the one-relaxed-mood-fits-all “Charango” on Reprise, was the source of much of the set, including the blissful “Sao Paolo” that finds the band at its sonic layering best. Only when segueing from the album’s leadoff track, “Slow Down,” to its first single, 1995’s “Trigger Hippie,” was there a sense that Morcheeba has settled in on a very specific groove and not gone too far astray in its canon.
Same can be said for Evora, who started recording 15 years ago at age 47 and has seen enormous success in her home country (off the coast of Senegal), France, Portugal and the U.S. With a band of all aces, led by acoustic guitar and violin with shades of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, Evora hits on all the stylistic touchstones of her eight studio albums, leaving no aspect of her approach underrepresented.
That style, called morna, is a blend of the mournful Portuguese fado and upbeat Brazilian melodies with a healthy dose of African rhythms. It feels like the music of nomads, who acquire sounds and textures as they travel, and yet the opposite is true — Cape Verde songwriters and musicians have acted like sponges absorbing the music of visitors to its ports.
When she arrived on the international scene, Evora was, and still is, an extension of Nina Simone — drenched in sadness one moment, playful the next — with a commanding blues voice that deserved worldwide attention. Yet Sunday, even with the voice intact, the novelty had clearly dissipated. Her very professional, 75-minute set felt no different than any of her other L.A. shows; it’s not that surprising, considering that her albums tend to run together in their sameness. Yet for an artist of this magnitude, there should be a greater sense of home or exploration that asserts the performer is continuing to grow.
Concert was the first in the Bowl’s world music festival, which continues Sunday with “World Beats,” a program headlined by the DJ Paul Oakenfold and on July 20 with “Soul of Africa” featuring India.Arie and a tribute to Fela Kuti featuring Yerba Buena, Blackalicious, Money Mark and Meshell Ndegeocello.
Morcheeba performs at New York’s Supper Club on July 24 and Irving Plaza on July 25.