Luciana Souza Begins U.S. Tour For 'The Book of Longing'

Anna Webber
Luciana Souza

Brazilian jazz singer/composer Luciana Souza comes by her love of music and poetry naturally. The Grammy Award winner (as a guest vocalist on Herbie Hancock’s album of the year-honored Rivers: The Joni Letters) is the daughter of poet Tereza Souza and musician Walter Santos. Revisiting her twin passions on The Book of Longing, Souza kicks off a U.S. tour on behalf of her latest album in Boston tomorrow (Nov. 9).

Souza wrote and arranged The Book of Longing’s simple yet warm string accompaniments (Scott Colley on bass, Chico Pinheiro on guitar) set to poems penned by Leonard Cohen, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti and Souza herself (who also plays some percussion). In fact, the project was inspired by and borrows its title from Cohen’s 2006 poetry book. Among the standouts on the emotionally rich 10-track Book are “These Things,” “Night Song” and “The Book.”

Souza says she’s “very surprised and deeply happy” about public response to the album. Produced by her Grammy-winning musician husband Larry Klein (Hancock, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan), The Book of Longing has drawn critical praise. Among those weighing in: NPR (“This is the most graceful album yet from a songwriter who knows how to make rare and common sentiments into music of deep feeling.”), The New York Times (“Little in the accomplished career of Luciana Souza … feels as charged with purpose as The Book of Longing.”) and PopMatters (“Souza builds monuments and breathtaking moments that still honor their sources.”).

“Every time I make a recording, I hope it touches people,” adds Souza. “But one never knows. It feels like we all live in a vacuum, so the incredibly positive response has been amazing.”

The Book of Longing isn’t the six-time Grammy nominee’s first foray into fusing poetry and music. The ambitious, genre-crossing vocalist’s album catalog, which dates back to 1999, includes The Poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Other Songs (2000) and Neruda (2004), a tribute to Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda.

Souza’s arresting vocals can also be heard on another new project: Raising Our Voice. That’s the title of the latest Mack Avenue Records album by legendary jazz fusion band the Yellowjackets, with whom Souza recently wrapped a European tour. On the eve of launching her own solo U.S. run, which ends Dec. 16 in New York (www.lucianasouza.com), Souza talks more about her “great adventure” in jazz.

Plans for another poetry album: I’ve done an album trilogy before [Brazilian Duos]. And perhaps this [The Book of Longing] is a second edition already. The Book of Chet, my 2012 tribute to jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, touches on some of the same ideas but through a different window. I would love to make this project more long-term by having other editions. The good thing about playing this music live is that I can add material to the show, thus continuing to curate this idea of poetry.

Creating musical transparency: I’m always hoping the music will take people to some place. Sometimes a quiet and introspective place, sometimes a fun and groovy place but always that the listener be somewhat transported and moved. In the case of The Book of Longing, the poetry is not only beautiful, it’s also true. The musicians also helped me by creating this very transparent place where things can’t be hidden. We are all exposed—sounds and words.  

Chasing an audience versus staying true to your artistry: I’m very lucky in that I’ve always only made the records I wanted to—that’s the luxury of recording for an indie label [Sunnyside Records]. Chasing an audience was never my thing. I’m just not made that way. Sometimes I wish I could be more “aware.” But in my case, ignorance is bliss. Obviously, I want to be successful enough to ensure I can make the next record and the next one. However, I can’t even fake it—you get what you get.  

On the road with the Yellowjackets: What most excited me was performing live with a band that has a great deal of experience. One of the things I enjoy about being a side singer is that I have to see how I fit in. And that will only show itself to me as we go onstage. There is something nerve wracking about it. But that’s what I love the most in jazz—a great adventure!

New ventures like Quincy Jones’ on-demand Qwest TV that are dedicated to keeping jazz’s legacy and future alive: I love going abroad and seeing how much jazz they have on late-night television there. Even though I’m jet-lagged, I stay up all night watching. Anything Quincy puts his mind and his hands on is worth paying attention to. I love the idea that we will have the ability to check out amazing documentaries and concerts. And people have to pay for it—so the creators can get paid.