The first time I heard Pamela Driggs was in Brasília’s album River Wide (Kokoppelli Records KOKO 1304, 1995). Brasília was based in New Mexico and included, besides Driggs, her husband Romero Lubambo on guitars, Phil Markowitz and Phil Strange on piano and keyboards, Jerry Watts on bass, Ted Moore on drums and Café on percussion. River Wide featured Driggs’ stunning vocals in unforgettable numbers by Ted Moore and Brazilian classics by Dorival Caymmi, Baden Powell and Vinícius de Moraes. Needless to say her smooth renditions in that first album left an impression on me I have never been able to forget. And so my incessant search for her albums began.
In 2001, Driggs released her first solo album, Midnight Blue. Produced by Atsushi “Sushi” Kosugi, the album featured Romero Lubambo on guitar again as well as the incomparable Cesar Camargo Mariano on piano. Mariano, Lubambo and Ben Wittman were responsible for all arrangements in Midnight Blue. Besides original compositions by Driggs and Lubambo, other songs were penned by Johnny Mercer, George and Ira Gershwin, Paulo Cesar Pinheiro, Vinícius de Moraes, Carlos Lyra and others.
A year later, Kosugi produced Itacuruçá. Once again, Lubambo was a notable presence in this excellent album. With the help of Paulo Calasans (piano), Trio da Paz friends Nilson Matta on bass and Duduka da Fonseca on drums, Lubambo was responsible for every single arrangement here, and in a couple of tracks he was helped by Driggs herself and Téo Lima (drums and percussion) and Marcelo Mariano (electric bass). With this combination of talents, it is really no wonder that Itacuruçá wins every one’s heart at the very first listening. Driggs’s vocals are once again impeccably gorgeous. Her ability to sing in Portuguese or English is unequalled. She possesses that awesome quality to put so much emotion in each word she sings without overdoing her vocals. Everything just falls into place smoothly. Her songwriting skills are also very nice.
Itacuruçá is a magical beach town one hour south of Rio de Janeiro. Driggs says the town is “lost in time, the sea, sand, sun, moon and stars.” Those words and images quite well describe the music here. You get everything between earth and sky in a nice package of songs, musicians, arrangements and renditions.
I’m not one who enjoys vocalise songs done in excess. Driggs seems to know the perfect balance between singing and just doing vocalise, as in the opener of the album, “Take Five.” The classic Paul Desmond tune rocks in Lubambo’s arrangement. He starts the song with a dazzling introduction on acoustic guitar leading in the main theme of “Take Five.” The Brazilian beat carried on by Lima’s drum and percussion is definitely a key element in the arrangement along with the other instrumentalists. The same goes for “Batucada Surgiu.” This upbeat Valle brothers tune fits Driggs’s voice quite nicely, and the group arrangement created by Lubambo, Lima and Mariano certainly did not waste her vocal abilities. If Driggs shines singing upbeat songs, you gotta brace yourself for the mellow, slow bossa nova tunes. Songs such as “Noites in Rio,” “Samba do Avião” and “Vivo Sonhando” are absolutely dreamy. One special mention must be made here for “Nature’s Beauty,” too. Written by Lubambo and Driggs, this tune would most definitely make Antonio Carlos Jobim proud because of its simple beauty. The soft and swaying rhythm is truly paradisiacal. Calasans’s touching piano solo is stunning. Driggs’s words evoke rare beauty:
She plays where all is pure and green, Where innocence can run and breath the flowers and the trees, Where loving fills each day, infuses every hour Fantasy is reality, In nature’s beauty, she can simply be
Coupled with the gorgeous melody, “Nature’s Beauty” will give you a sense of paradise found. As for the title track, if you have never been to Itacuruçá, you can be sure you’ll get the next best thing. Again, Driggs’s lyrics are cleverly written and convey the beautiful images of that beach town. The closing number, Burke/Van Heusen’s standard “Imagination,” gets a complete makeover with an intimate acoustic guitar and voice arrangement. You will swear that tune was originally written to be performed this way.
Since her 1995 appearance in River Wide, Driggs does not seem to have slowed down, except for the long absence between that album and her solo debut in 2001. With Itacuruçá, she appears to be in excellent form and ready to wow world audiences with her beautiful voice.
441 Records FFO-0001 (2002)
- Take Five (Paul Desmond)
- Batucada Surgiu (Ray Gilbert – Marcos Valle – Paulo Sérgio Valle)
- Noites no Rio (Ilvamar Magalhães – Romero Lubambo)
- Samba do Avião (Antonio Carlos Jobim)
- Love Me Like a Man (Chris Smither – words adapted by Bonnie Raitt)
- Itacuruçá (Pamela Driggs – Romero Lubambo)
- Água de Beber (Vinícius de Moraes – Antonio Carlos Jobim)
- Nature’s Beauty (Pamela Driggs – Romero Lubambo)
- Leiloca (Romero Lubambo)
- Vivo Sonhando (Antonio Carlos Jobim)
- Imagination (Johnny Burke – Jimmy Van Heusen)