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You can hear it in her voice; the influences are obvious: The heartfelt emotion recalls Sheila Jordan; the exquisite scatting reminds the listener of Maria Joao, and the story that she tells comes from Billie Holiday. But Paula Oliveira's voice is unique, and while she conjures images of some of the finest jazz vocalists, she is unquestionably her own person. With only the backing of the sensitive, delicate piano of João Paulo, the exposed Oliveira approaches her voice as a horn, and she seems to enjoy singing without words, which she does part of the time. When she scats, the excursions are more likely to conjure images of a flute or recorder, with long tones in the higher ranges. A good example comes on the lovely "Fatima," where she hovers like a bird in flight while Paulo grounds the keys with assured hands that float below. Compare that, though, to Oliveira's sheer technical virtuosity shown on several tracks, including "Entao." The lyrics are in Portuguese, a romantic language that, as with French, is intrinsically beautiful, so that even those who don't understand the language can appreciate its innate sensuousness, particularly in the context of the gorgeous compositions of João Paulo. For skeptics, though, she includes one American standard, "Stella by Starlight," if just to let you know that she can stamp it with an original interpretation — in this case a deep-throated laid-back interpretation with touches of Cassandra Wilson. Taken as a whole, Oliveira's got her act together, and in this present duo, she shows an exquisite gracefulness and innate intimacy reflected in each track.

Quase Então, João Paulo
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