Karen Souza Raids the Vault on New Album


Karen Souza’s album Velvet Vault is a mix of pop and rock covers and jazz standards.

(Photo: Courtesy of the Artist)

Karen Souza has a voice that can make any song sound like an intimate confession. “Her voice is like a massage,” said Tom “Bones” Malone, the trombonist and former Saturday Night Live bandleader, who collaborated with the singer on her new album, Velvet Vault (Music Brokers).

Born in the rural La Pampa province of Argentina, Souza got her start singing electronic club music under various pseudonyms. She hadn’t considered a career as a jazz singer until she was invited in 2005 to contribute to a Warner Bros. compilation series called Jazz And ’80s, which reimagined that decade’s pop hits in a variety of jazz settings. The series was an international hit, eventually expanding to include other decades, and Souza found herself tapped repeatedly for her smoky sound, helping turn The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” into a mellow bossa nova and Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” into a Peggy Lee-style swinging romp.

The success of Jazz And ’80s helped launch Souza onto the international jazz circuit. Velvet Vault was made in a globetrotting fashion, with elements recorded in Brazil, Colombia, New York, Tokyo and Buenos Aires, as well as songwriting sessions in Los Angeles with Grammy-nominated lyricist Pamela Oland.

Unlike her previous albums, which were dedicated either entirely to originals (Hotel Souza) or pop and rock covers (Essentials and Essentials II), Velvet Vault is a mix of both, along with a few jazz standards. The result is a good representation of Souza’s live sets, as well as her eclectic tastes.

“The [genres] I love the most have that melancholic thing, you know?” she said, speaking by phone from her home in Buenos Aires. “I can interpret [when I] perform that kind of music.”

Souza brings a timeless quality to the material, whether it’s a standard like “I Fall In Love Too Easily”—rendered on Velvet Vault as a hat-tip to Chet Baker’s iconic version, complete with muted trumpet—or a recent indie-rock hit like MGMT’s “Kids,” which Souza, who also produced Velvet Vault, stripped of its original electronic instrumentation and cast as a ghostly piano ballad. “I enjoy those kinds of songs where I can [highlight] the lyrics and give it more power,” she explained.

Souza is looking forward to getting back on the road with this new batch of songs from every imaginable genre and era, all brought together in her hushed, samba-tinged style. “A good song, you can sing it in bossa, in jazz, in whatever,” she said. “It works because it’s a good song.” DB

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February 2019
Terri Lyne Carrington
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