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Tuesday, September 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 44.0° F  Overcast
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Brazil's Luciana Souza looks to poets for inspiration
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Souza: Bring a date.
Souza: Bring a date.
Credit:Gabriel Rinaldi

If you're looking for a fun way to start your Valentine's Day weekend, you could do worse than Brazilian singer Luciana Souza's concert Friday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater, as part of the Isthmus Jazz Series. But the evening will cover a lot more than just romance.

"Would this be a good concert to take a date to? Definitely. It's hard for a singer not to sing about love," says Souza, a So Paulo native with four Grammy nominations for Best Jazz Vocalist under her belt. "But with the two musicians playing with me, there are some adventurous moments, too."

Accompanying Souza will be percussionist and composer Cyro Baptista and guitarist Romero Lubambo, both of whom also come from Brazil and sport storied résumés of their own. They'll play a set of what Souza calls "definitely world music. It's not just one genre; it's bigger than that."

Souza started singing professionally at age 3, recording advertising jingles. Born shortly after the mid-century bossa nova craze to two artists - her father was a musician and composer, her mother a poet - she had the groundwork well laid for her career. Her 2009 album Tide, the latest of her recordings to garner a Grammy nomination, is quietly, rhythmically intense, and the tracks include two songs inspired by e.e. cummings poems.

It's not the first time Souza has found a muse in verse. She did a 2000 album based on poet Elizabeth Bishop's works, and Neruda, from 2004, used the Chilean Nobel laureate's poems as its basis.

"I wouldn't say my mother consciously had anything to do with it, but I think being in her presence - she was always reading poetry or talking about poetry," Souza says. "It's easier now for me to see where the influence was. You look back and you go, 'Oh, that was what my childhood was about!'"

Since growing up, Souza has worked with the likes of Herbie Hancock and Minnesota composer Maria Schneider, and has been the Jazz Artist in Residence for San Francisco Performances since 2004.

Don't, however, expect her to perform typical jazz standards in Madison. Though her style, she says, shares "the sort of spirit of jazz - improvisation and interaction with musicians, deep knowledge of harmony," her heritage is an unmistakable part of what she does, and will be amplified by her countrymen's presence onstage.

"We have a common language, so people will definitely hear a strong Brazilian influence," she says. And if you don't know what that entails, she says, don't sweat it.

"What I find interesting is that audiences are wonderful and sophisticated and brilliant no matter where I go," Souza says. "People who are curious about music will take it in. And there are people out there who still love to walk into a concert and not know what they're going to find."

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