In 1996 32-year-old Virginia Rodrigues had a small role in a local theater production in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. After hearing her sing at rehearsal none other than Caetano Veloso approached her, invited her to perform at one of his concerts, and eventually arranged for her first recording sessions. So it’s not really surprising that her albums seem somewhat producer-driven–but if there’s no real sense of a single vision behind her work, her glorious voice provides more than enough continuity. Her 1997 debut, Sol negro, emphasized the European elements in Brazilian music, while the follow-up, Nos, explored axe, the style played in the streets of Salvador by the percussion troupes known as blocos afros. On the new Mares profundos (Edge) she performs nearly all of Os Afro-sambas, the classic 1966 song cycle by Vinicius de Moraes and Baden Powell that wedded the harmonic sophistication of samba and bossa nova with the rhythmic vitality of the music associated with Afro-Brazilian religions like Candomble. Rodrigues is now an adherent of Candomble, but she was raised in the Pentecostal faith, and it’s her church background that most distinguishes her from other Brazilian pop vocalists. She admires concert singers like Jessye Norman and Marian Anderson and shares with them a tonal purity and precision that give her mahogany contralto an air of liturgical solemnity. But beneath the formal mastery is a keen rhythmic intuition that allows her voice to ride the beautiful Brazilian syncopation like a raft hugging the curl of every wave that passes beneath it. The string, horn, and vocal arrangements on the new album sometimes obscure the rhythmic base of the songs, but if this show is anything like her only other Chicago performance–in 1998, a mesmerizing tour de force–no one will be paying much attention to the accompaniment. Chicago Samba plays a late set. Friday, October 31, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mario Cravo Neto/DG.