The title of Cesaria Evora’s just-released RCA album, “Rogamar,” translates into “praise the sea,” or “pray to the sea,” and Friday night at Royce Hall, you could feel a sultry salt-rimed languor in her music.
There were the wavy radiating lines of the acoustic guitar and cavaquinto, the soft piano chords lapping the shore, the soprano sax and violin adding accents like a cool offshore breeze. As befits the international nature of Evora’s fame (the album was recorded in Evora’s native Cape Verde, Paris and Rio de Janeiro), there are touches of Afro-Cuban jazz, samba and cafe jazz in the mix.
At the center, of course, is Evora. Her voice remains a stunning instrument, burnished by years of whiskey and tobacco (an instrumental, “Ninaxa,” comes around halfway through the ninety-minute set to both spell the 65-year-old singer and give her a chance to light up), with a seemingly bottomless emotional reserve. She’s not showy or rangy; she imbues songs such as the morna “Sombas di Distino” with a deep melancholy with a just a slight catch in her phrasing or a dip in her tone.
Older songs such as “Sodade” and a deeply yearning version of “Besame Mucho” filled the hall with an anodyne heartache, but Evora displayed an impish humor, shimmying and lasciviously gesturing to a couple by way of introducing the album’s title track, and pointedly ending the evening with a reprise of “Mae Africa,” the evening’s most joyous music.
Evora plays New York’s Beacon Theater on March 30.