Unreleased in decades, Joyce Moreno’s ‘Natureza’ is a snapshot of newfound freedom: NPR
‘For me, it’s history,’ says Brazilian artist of her long-lost 1977 album
At home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian singer-songwriter Joyce Moreno speaks philosophically about an album that has remained unreleased for more than 45 years. “A vida tem semper razão‘, she said via video chat, quoting fellow Brazilian poet Vinicius de Moraes (himself famous for writing the lyrics to ‘Girl from Ipanema’), before translating the line: ”Life is always right’. Whatever happens, life has its reasons, it is always right.”
We are talking Naturezaan album Moreno recorded in New York in 1977 with legendary arranger and bandleader Claus Ogerman and a crack ensemble of Brazilian session musicians and jazz players ranging from former Herbie Hancock bassist Buster Williams to session man Joe Farrell (whose silk sax and flute work could be heard accompanying Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin and Laura Nyro at the time).
Joyce Moreno was on her way to becoming – if not as household a name as the women above – at least as established as other Brazilian international luminaries like João Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto or Antonio Carlos Jobim, well-known names in the United States , thanks much to Ogerman’s arrangements for them. His charts narrowed the gaps between bossa nova, jazz, easy listening and pop and Moreno was the perfect fit, with his airy delivery and deft guitar. It seems that with Natureza, Moreno’s time had finally arrived.
But the Natureza the recordings were previously unreleased, with release on UK imprint Far Out Recordings. For label boss Joe Davis, he believes that if his album had come out at the time, he would have found Moreno in the company of other jazz artists pushing for mainstream success, like George Benson and Donald Byrd. “There was a real shift in the sales and appreciation of jazz records at that time, so it would have been a perfect time for Joyce’s music to be heard,” he says. “It would have been amazing for Joyce and her career obviously and would have been appreciated around the world by jazz and world music fans.”
Natureza also could have been the album that catapulted Moreno to an international audience. “When you say ‘could have been’, it’s because it wasn’t,” she said with a small smile. “For me, it’s history. It’s a moment in my career, in my life, in all of us who participated. Of course, I knew it would happen eventually. Maybe not in my lifetime. , but I knew it would happen at some point.”
Fame came decades later for her outside her native Brazil, thanks to the support of European radio DJs like Gilles Peterson, Patrick Forge and even Davis, whose label has released more than six Joyce albums to date. At this point in her career, Moreno was already used to adversity. She picked up the guitar at age 14 and taught herself to play, soon after writing her own songs. In 1967, her song “Me Disseram” became a finalist for the country’s International Song Festival, but her first-person perspective as a woman outraged journalists and critics.
“It was considered immoral, it was not appropriate for a 19-year-old girl to write and sing things like that,” she says. “It was ridiculous, of course. But you have to keep in mind: in 1967 at the Song Festival and in 1968 on my first album, we lived under a right-wing dictatorship, a military government in a very conservative Catholic country .” It was a level of repression that imprisoned – then exiled – stars like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil and suppressed the lyrics of others. Moreno says censors sued her for having words like “pregnant” and “given birth” in her songs.
Yet even in the face of such oppression, his star was rising, thanks to his self-titled debut in 1968 and 1972. Nelson Angelo E Joyce (an era classic recorded with her then-husband), showcasing Joyce’s suave vocals and nimble guitar work. “Joyce is a truly unique Brazilian singer-songwriter and she is a mad nylon guitar player,” enthuses modern tropicalia-indie musician Tim Bernardes, whose O Terno trio and his own solo work draw inspiration from the lineage embodied in Moreno’s music, citing his appearance on the album. Milton Nascimento. Esquina Club 2 as an influence. “I was blown away the first time [heard] his guitar playing on this recording, the voicings on the chords, the melody and the harmony of this song – so beautiful.”
In 1977, Moreno was hired for a residency at New York’s Cachaça, a very posh and expensive club offering Brazilian music to its upscale Upper East Side clientele. “At first I wasn’t crazy about the city because I was staying in a posh apartment belonging to the owner of the club. It was a wealthy neighborhood, I thought it was a bit boring,” she recalls. But she quickly stumbled upon the Brazilian expat musical community, who played with other jazz musicians every night. During this time, she continued to work uptown as a duo with fellow singer and guitarist, Mauricio Maestro. In this circle of expats, Moreno met her future husband, percussionist Tutty Moreno, moving in with him into his West Village apartment and finding himself at the center of a vibrant music scene: “Then I really started to like the city, to be involved in a different environment.”
It was another in-demand Brazilian percussionist, João Palma, who connected Moreno with famed German arranger, conductor, composer and pianist Claus Ogerman, who was operating at his peak in the late 70s, with credits ranging from Bill Evans to Barbra Streisand. at Benson. Moreno and Maestro auditioned for Ogerman and decided he wanted to produce an album with them.
The seven songs including Natureza were then filed within days. And while they carry the Grammy-winning arranger’s wider palette of timbres, that never overshadows the songs themselves. It both offers a glimpse of a lusher version of Moreno’s music while keeping intact the rhythmic flexibility of his dynamics with Maestro. “Claus was super respectful; he never tried to change what we were doing or give different ideas,” Moreno recalled. “He let the music run wild.” Nowhere is this freedom more evident than on “Feminina”. Most fans are undoubtedly familiar with the polished and dynamic 3:48 version Moreno re-recorded in 1980 for his album of the same name, as it remains one of his most beloved songs. The lyrics are a dialogue between mother and daughter, as the youngest asks what it means to be “feminine”, the mother explaining that, as Moreno explains to a non-Portuguese, “it’s not your appearance, it’s is something inside”.
But the original version of “Feminina” – as captured by Ogerman in 1977 – arrives at 11:25 a.m., running as fast and free as a wild stallion through a field. “I had just written the song and we didn’t know how to finish it,” Moreno said. “So we just played and played and kept playing. At the end Claus said, ‘This is so exciting, I’m not going to touch this or put an orchestra on it. And indeed, that is what he doesn’t do.” It’s a wild, joyous moment, captured live in the studio by a nine-piece band plus a five-piece wind ensemble, powered by a tight Brazilian percussion trio, with plenty of room for a solo of vibraphone, a flute solo (courtesy Joe Farrell), and the vocals of Moreno and Maestro intertwine in increasingly exciting passages. Elsewhere, Ogerman used the skillful guitar playing between Moreno and Maestro as the basis for his charts, elevating songs like “Coração”, sung by Maestro. Sonhador”, the haunting duet “Ciclo Da Vida” and the exquisite “Descompassadamente” to even dreamier heights.
But after the first few sessions, things started to go wrong. Moreno’s daughter fell ill and she returned to Rio to take care of her. She corresponded with Ogerman by letter as he attempted to sell the album to interested labels and fund the opulent orchestration he envisioned for it. A deal was struck with Horizon Records, but soon the label went bankrupt. “Claus wanted me to come back and re-record the English vocals,” she says. “At the time, I couldn’t do that. I was here, pregnant with my third child and I couldn’t leave the country.” At one point, ownership reverted to Ogerman, but when Moreno’s record labels inquired about releasing the music in the 1990s, his asking price to complete it was high, still asking for peak fees from 1970s. In the end, Ogerman was only able to mix “Feminina” and “Descompassadamente”, two songs that were inserted into CD compilations from the turn of the century. It wasn’t until his passing in 2016 that his niece brokered the release of the album.
Listen to “Feminina” once and it exquisitely captures the thrill of creation, a new song, a new hope, even a new love. Listen to it again for four decades and that joy is still there, but now imbued with a deeper sense of relief. Fame didn’t come then, but a form of it came nonetheless, and his career flourished in the 21st century, even without international success. Moreno wasn’t using the album to chase a trend or convert a big producer into a big hit. Like an unreleased Polaroid, the album captures Moreno’s music at that time, strictly on his own terms, with that newfound sense of freedom that feels just as vital now as it did in a whirlwind week. in 1977.
Yet Moreno had not purchased a cassette copy of these recordings in the late 90s from the vice president of Verve Records (Moreno says Ogerman dubbed it a copy), Natureza may never have seen the light of day, as the masters now seem lost. But even with that, it remains a fact. “It was probably meant to be like this,” she said with a Well raise your shoulders. “I was sure it would come out at some point. Just 45 is fine. I was doing my thing. I’m still doing my thing. I’m still doing my thing.”