It's February and I don't know about the rest of the country but it's grim in Nashville, Tennessee. Maybe you, like me, are dreaming about a vacation. A good long soak in southern hemispheric sun and sea would be just the thing. Or maybe you're more of the urban, cafe-haunting, people-watching kind. How does an afternoon sipping a cafe au lait at a hip Paris bistro sound? What? No time? Too broke? I hear you. Luckily, Tom and Joy (aka Thomas Naim and Joyce Hoze-Liwer) have just the thing to tide you over till you can get away. The Parisian duo offers a beautiful and varied journey on their latest release, Antigua. Often described as a bossa nova duo, the pair offers that and so much more as they conjure warm climes and silky melodies, dive into driving rhythms and bracing horn lines, and deliver equal measures of cool jazz and afro-beat.
This is, in the broadest sense of the phrase, world music, in that it spans cultures and expands the limits of genre. Joy's velvety voice is a siren's invitation (in French, Portuguese, Spanish and English) to lean back into a cool-hot zone--part, Astrud Gilberto, part Edith Piaf, charged with a uplifting energy all her own. Tom's guitar playing is pure gold, at moments classic bossa nova, as in the opening track, "Meditation", at other times an electrifying fusion of jazz, afro- and latin-beat and funky R & B, as in the exciting title track, which features a guest appearance by the legendary afro-beat drummer Tony Allen (Fela Kuti).
They've surrounded themselves with musicians of the highest caliber, sophisticated players who breathe new life into the bossa nova tradition threading through the album and who easily follow Tom and Joy as they soar over other landscapes and dive into different rhythmic and sonic terrain. Horns, strings, keys, and even some classic jazz harmonica join Tom's guitar and Joy's vocal as they pulse and swirl around the funky bass lines and irresistible drum tracks.
Antigua is a sophisticated and subtle album that, while it achieves impressive levels of instrumental firepower and savvy arranging, is at its heart an inviting and accessible collection of love songs to places and people and states of mind. Tom and Joy strike that perfect (and hard to achieve) balance of exciting and soothing, just like the perfect vacation. I mean, you can't lie on the beach all day. You need to zip through town on the back of a moped or watch the people scurrying by as you enjoy your caffeine buzz, right? Listening to Antigua delivers the musical version of that blend of relaxation, cultural stimulation, and stress-free excitement you hope to have on a great holiday. Without the sunburn or food poisoning. • Judith Edelman