Diane Schuur’s interpretative powers and her legendary three-and-a-half octave vocal range have earned her the title of "the new First Lady of jazz,” five GRAMMY® nominations, two GRAMMY® awards, and acclaim from critics worldwide, including the late Leonard Feather. The venerable father of contemporary jazz criticism lauded Schuur most for her adaptability and versatility. Indeed, the feisty and spirited vocalist is always ready for a new jazz journey. On her new release, Schuur Fire (Concord Picante, CCD-2264-2), she takes us island hopping in the Caribbean and kicks her 25th Anniversary in the business—as well as Concord Picante’s 25th year—into high gear with twelve memorable tracks given a fresh spin with passionate and infectious Latin rhythms.
Schuur signed with Concord Records in 1999, and each of her four subsequent releases has afforded her an opportunity to stretch in a new musical direction, always guided by her deeply entrenched jazz instincts. On Schuur Fire, she reaches into her musical soul with world-renowned Brazilian guitarist, Oscar Castro-Neves as producer and arranger. The CD is also the celebrated vocalist’s first recorded collaboration with the fiery GRAMMY® Award-winning Latin jazz ensemble Caribbean Jazz Project, led by vibraphonist and marimba player, Dave Samuels. "The idea was to do a Latin-oriented album with repertoire originally not recorded as Latin music,” says Castro-Neves. "It’s a twist, so people can revisit tunes they know, but this time they’ll hear them fired up by Latin rhythms. If you set a song like ‘Ordinary World’ by Duran Duran to Latin music, you really pay attention to the lyrics,” he adds. "Diane gives such a powerful delivery, and put a great deal of poetry into all this music. This is a new voyage for Diane.”
In addition to Duran Duran, Schuur Fire features tunes made popular by Frank Sinatra ("More Than You Know”) and Ray Charles ("I Can’t Stop Loving You”), as well as hits by James Taylor ("Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”) and Stevie Wonder ("As”). "I’ve always wanted to do ‘As;’ it’s one of my favorite tunes,” enthuses Schuur. "It says a lot about the constancy of love in peoples’ lives, and some very universal insights about our planet, the sun, the earth. It’s beautiful.”
On the CD, three tunes more associated with the Latin world are dusted off and revitalized with Castro-Neves fine arrangements and Schuur’s distinctive interpretations. "I’ve always loved "Poinciana” as an instrumental tune, and it hadn’t been done much with vocals, except by Manhattan Transfer,” says Schuur, whose lush vocals soar over the Caribbean Jazz Project’s percolating rhythms. The aching quality of her lovely rendition of Ivan Lins’ "Confessions”—with new lyrics written expressly for Schuur by Brenda Russell—provides a touching counterpoint to Castro-Neves’ poignant interludes on classical guitar. "Yellow Days,” a Mexican song, provides an equally tender showcase for Schuur’s mastery of fullness juxtaposed with simplicity—her voice cascades over and around notable solos by both Samuels and Diego Urcola (featured throughout the disc on both trumpet and fluegelhorn). Other CJP band members include Dario Eskenazi (piano), Oscar Stagnaro (bass), Mark Walker (drums) and Roberto Quintero (congas, percussion).
Schuur and the Caribbean Jazz Project make a lively entreaty out of "Lover Come Back to Me,” one of several tunes suggested by Castro-Neves. "It was a lot of fun,” she says. "I did it as an up tempo ballad to really stretch the lyrics out. And, with the pulse of the band underneath, not to mention a great percussive stretch in the middle, the meaning of the words really comes through.” "Close Enough for Love,” by Johnny Mandel and Paul Williams is also transformed into an up beat, yet still very romantic, ballad. And, Schuur confesses, recording a Latin-influenced version of "So In Love” is very fresh, unexpected, in the capable hands of the CJP. "I’ve wanted to do this tune for a long time as I’ve loved it ever since I was a kid,” she says. "Michel Legrand did a beautiful album of Cole Porter stuff, and I just started crying when I heard it. It’s quite different on this recording, pretty intense.”
"Diane is an incredible performer and singer,” says Castro-Neves. "She has golden ears, knows immediately what she wants to do, and away she goes. The first time we met, the rapport was fantastic, couldn’t have been better. I knew her as an artist for many years, but this was the first time we really worked together. When Hal Gaba [co-owner of Concord Records] called me, I said, ‘how much do I have to pay you?’,” laughs Castro-Neves. "This is the kind of project you want to do, a personal and musical pleasure beyond anything. The atmosphere of joy and interplay was very present among all of us. I think feelings go on a record as much as the notes.”
Schuur agrees, and for that reason, lobbied to keep a giggle in the final cut of "Look Around,” a tune made famous on Sergio Mendes’s immensely popular Brasil 66 release. "When I heard Dave Samuels’ solo on that tune, I just let out a little giggle, a Deedle giggle,” she says, referring to her lifelong nickname. "They took my giggle out during editing, but I made them put it back in. It brought out the human element—Dave’s solo was so awesome that I couldn’t contain myself!” Schuur selected the tune, "because I thought Alan and Marilyn Bergman would enjoy my interpretation of it,” she says of her old friends, the renowned songwriters who penned lyrics for the huge Mendes hit.
"Look Around” and five other tunes feature Castro-Neves on Brazilian classical guitar, a reprise of his ten-year tenure with Mendes and Brasil 66. Britt Robson of the Star Tribune once wrote of this forefather of the Bossa Nova movement: "It was apparent that guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves was a collaborative catalyst, who expertly shaded the tone and spurred the creativity of everyone around him.” The same can definitely be said of his role as producer/arranger on Schuur Fire.
"This was one of the most interesting, fun, creative projects I’ve ever done; it was simply very special, really close to my heart,” says Schuur. "It was really exciting to work with Oscar and the Caribbean Jazz Project. Everyone just had a blast.” The fun doesn’t stop with the release of Schuur Fire. Diane and the CJP, led by Samuels, take to the road in 2005 to bring their fiery Latin rhythms to audiences across the United States, who will no doubt agree that this is one incredible first-class musical journey.