Vocalist Miguel De Leon is an amiable throwback to the golden era of Brazilian music - the days of the Bossa Nova craze, now more than 40 years past. De Leon’s understated, almost fragile, tenor voice floats effortlessly above pianist David Feldman’s spare but soulful arrangements, and you cannot help but think of a lazy evening spent on a beach somewhere near Rio de Janiero.
Surprisingly, de Leon is a Mexican-American based in Chicago, who became interested in Brazilian music as a teenager via Sergio Mendes’ classic pop-jazz recordings with Brazil 66. His infatuation deepened as he mastered Portuguese and made periodic pilgrimages to Brazil starting in the mid-80s. "Postcards from Rio", De Leon's second CD, demonstrates a deep understanding of Rio de Janeiro, its people and its music.
Unlike Mendes’ polyglot Afro-Brazilian pop approach, "Postcards from Rio" is, for the most part, more in line with the classic samba-jazz and bossa-nova recordings of the 60s and early 70s. Acoustic instrumentation dominates throughout: mellow bass, piano, drums, and guitar occasionally give way to brief, jazzy, solos by Feldman, an unidentified reed player (most likely producer Leo Gandelman), and trombonist Serginho Trombone. Feldman’s crafty arrangements have a lot of personality - his sly, witty interjections and stabs of overdubbed flutes and trombones are especially effective.
Despite de Leon's pleasant vocals and his backing band's high level of musicianship, a feeling of sameness prevails after four or five tracks. The instrumentation varies little, and every piece is taken at the same tempo. Another slight miscalculation is DE Leon’s decision to sing in English as well as in Portuguese. Classic tunes such as "Corcovado", "Samba do Aviao", and "Garota de Impanema" simply do not need an English translation. De Leon also slips in a pair of contemporary Brazilian-themed soft-pop tunes by James Taylor and Richard Torrance which pale next to his interpretations of timeless classics by Jobim, de Moraes, and Caymmi. Fortunately, the latter comprise the vast majority of the CD.
Despite a few slight missteps, "Postcards from Rio" is refreshingly simple and direct in its approach throughout, and offers an honest and heartfelt tribute to the music and the people of Rio de Janeiro.