Lani Hall first discovered her deep love for the exotic, indigenous rhythms and lilting melodies of Brazilian Music in the late 60s and early 70s when she was lead singer with Sergio Mendes & Brazil ’66. After years of subsequent success as a solo artist (culminating with a Grammy Award for Best Latin Pop Performance in 1986), she took a break from the music business. Now, focused once more on her musical career, Hall is currently re-exploring her earliest passions on her Windham Hill Jazz debut, Brasil Nativo, which features fresh and unique arrangements of Brazilian songs, both classic and more obscure, some sung in English, others in their native Portuguese.
Brasil Nativo is an intimate statement of the way she hears and feels Brazilian music. For Hall, it also grew to be a richly rewarding year and a half; researching the project and finding material was a true labor of love.
“I am always looking to be inspired, and when I started listening to some of my old Brazilian albums I felt the music waking up inside of me, moving and touching me on a deeper level. I nursed the idea along and realized that this project would be about finding my own voice once again through this unique and inspiring music.
“Once I had narrowed the selection down, arranging became a very personal experience. Having the blank canvas of a song with so many possibilities, I had to dig inside to find my interpretations without losing the integrity of the music. My intention was to present these songs in a way that they’ve never been heard before. That’s where Eddie del Barrio was so selfless. He urges me to go within myself and use his vast knowledge to help interpret how I heard the songs live and breathe from a different perspective.”
Hall sang phonetically, in Portuguese, but two of the selections, the opening track, “Tres Curumins (Three Young Indians)” and the title song are sung in a native Amazon Indian language. “Authenticity and emotion are very important to me,” she explains. “Singing and phrasing a translated English lyric can change the feeling and intention of a song, and I find the sound of the Portuguese language very musical, earthy and soulful. I know the meaning of the songs through English translations, but even if I didn’t, the music and sound of the language transcend intellectual meaning for me and shoot straight to the heart. Each song is like a flower opening up, exposing new color and fragrance, strength and fragility.”
Legendary Brazilian singer/songwriter Dori Caymmi was featured on the album as well as being an integral part in the recording, contributing three songs, three vocals and playing his acoustic guitar on eight out of eleven tracks. Hall says, “I have known Dori since the late 60s and I had sung some of this material with Brazil ’66. His music has always touched me and I wanted to include him in this album. He came to my home and we played and sang together and it felt so natural and right. There is something about the blend of our voices that just works.”
With Eddie del Barrio’s keyboards and string arrangements, Brasil Nativo features some of Los Angeles’ top studio talent: bassists Jimmy Johnson, Nathan East and Chuck Domanico, drummer Michael Shapiro (a later part of Mendes’ band), Heitor Pereira on additional guitars and percussionist Paulinho Da Costa.
The rising rhythms behind Hall’s subtle yet urgent voice on the opening track, “Tres Curumins,” describe the important environmental theme of the song; Hall is singing to three Amazon Indian children of a native tribe, telling them to leave their land before encroaching civilization destroys their forests completely. After a wistful bossa nova duet with Dori singing in English and Lani caressing in Portuguese on the Chaplin classic, “Smile,” the two engage their lush vocal harmonies over a driving baiao rhythm on “Viola Fora De Moda/Zanzibar.” Hall sings of the haunting loneliness and pain of lost love in Portuguese and her own English lyric on “Velho Piano,” (“No Place to Hide”). Lani delivers a lush and beautiful vocal on the hypnotic title track, “Brasil Nativo,” co-written by Dori’s brother, Danilo Caymmi.
Hall paints the well known “Mas Que Nada” into an exotic blend whose landscape is intensified by her primitive/sacred interpretation, jungle percussion, moody orchestral underscoring and the relentless heartbeat of the track’s primitive drum. Dori and Lani then blend seamlessly on the tender “Historia Antiga,” followed by the beautiful Ivan Lins song, “Saudades De Casa,” (“Meant to Be”), to which Hall wrote the romantic English lyric. “Varadero” slips around on sustaining bossa nova rhythms on Lani’s sensuous vocal, sung in Portuguese and her own English lyric. Closing the collection are the dramatic, prayer-like ballad “Amor De Indio”- a powerful demonstration of Hall’s vast vocal range- and her deeply poetic reading of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s classic, “Waters of March.”
Lani was 19 years old, singing in an Old Town club on Wells Street in her native Chicago when Sergio Mendes heard her and asked her to join his newly formed Brazil ’66 ensemble. “I’d been singing mostly folk rock and jazz,” she recalls. “When Stan Getz popularized Brazilian I became a huge fan. I remember the first time I heard Sergio I said to myself, ‘Oh that’s the sound I love!” When I joined the band, however, I had no clue that the music would vibrate in me so deeply.”
The band was auditioning for A&M Records in 1966 when Hall met the label’s owners. Brazil ’66 became the opening act and wound up recording seven albums for A&M with Hall as the lead singer–Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes & Brazil ’66 (1966); Equinox and Look Around (1967); Fool on the Hill (1968); Ye Me Le (1969); Crystal Illusions (1970); and Stillness (1971).
In the 70s Hall launched a solo career, performing her brand of pop/folk/jazz around the world and releasing seven solo albums from 1972 (Sundown Lady) through 1982 (Albany Park). Her Collectibles recording in 1983 featured the title song for the popular James Bond movie Never Say Never Again, which marked the re-emergence of Sean Connery as 007. Hall recorded her first solo Brazilian album A Brasilieira in 1981 before a very fruitful period exploring Latin music and recording in Spanish with Latin superstars Jose Jose, Jose Feliciano, Camilo Sesto and Roberto Carlos. Her mid-80s output also led to her most notable industry achievements to date, a Grammy nomination for 1982’s Lani and a 1986 Grammy Award for Best Latin Pop Performance (Es Facil Amar).
“Ultimately, it was the blend of primitive and classical influences in Brazilian Music that led me back to recording,” she says of her recent re-awakening. “To me, the music is both holy and of the earth, lifting the spirit to a higher place yet at the same time pulling you to its deeper roots. That juxtaposition thrill inspires me, and that is what I wanted to capture. I started out wanting to be completely authentic but I found that I couldn’t help but carve my own American musical sensibility into the songs and arrangements while also feeling a sense of loyalty and devotion to the high integrity of the music.”
The previous generation of world music lovers will remember Lani Hall quite fondly and welcome her return. Younger fans of the music will no doubt also be fascinated at a new discovery, the way she approaches these songs, her phrasing and emotional shifts. Like the music she loves so well and has taken such great care with, Brasil Nativo is a timeless testament to the rhythm of love and life itself