Sex in the subtlety

ERROL NAZARETH

, Last Updated: 2:25 AM ET

If sophistication and elegance were commonplace in today's R&B, this sweet and simple lyric in Ivana Santilli's CD, Brown, wouldn't jump out.

"Don't you know that makin' love takes more than just dark," Santilli sings on Doin' All The Doin,' a song from her just-released debut.

While the majority of R&B(S) artists choose to assault us with sexually crass lyrics, Santilli would rather seduce us with earthy music. Just as Marvin Gaye and Bobby Womack did.

"I'd rather the groove be about sex," the trumpeter and classically-trained pianist says. "Subtlety is so sexy.

"Listen to D'angelo and MeShell (Ndegeocello)," she adds. "The grooves (in their records)... that's the sex. They don't have to say anything."

With the exception of a couple of throwaway tracks, Santilli has succeeded in cooking up a warm and delicious concoction that includes elements of Brazilian music, soul, and drum 'n' bass. Clearly, Santilli, a Canadian of French-Italian heritage, is all about expanding black music's vocabulary.

"When I left Bass Is Base I had a whole bunch of ideas that just fell out," she explains. "One was a bossa nova, one was a ballad, and when I wrote Sun+Moon=Tomorrow, I was like, 'I think this is a drum 'n' bass song.' "

The cleverly crafted live drum 'n' bass composition, featuring prodigiously talented drummer Sekou Lumumba, is one of the catchiest things on Brown.

"I'd written and recorded (Sun+Moon) in the summer of '97 but I wasn't crazy about the drum programming," Santilli says. "I thought it was too laid-back, I wanted it to be more meaty, so I called Sekou in 'cause I thought live drums would be great.

"So I laid out the tempo, played the bass line, he played along with it, and (producer/DJ) Ababcus mixed it."

If anything, Brown proves that Santilli wasn't just "the sexy chick" in Bass Is Base. She wrote, composed and arranged all the songs on Brown, produced three tracks and co-produced the rest.

Apparently, her creative voice was being stifled in her former band. The break-up was acrimonious but they've all moved on individually.

"My ideas weren't necessarily good for what Bass Is Base was ... or supposed to be," she says. "My goal was to become a better musician, singer and songwriter, and I felt there was no room for me to grow."

The challenges that came with stepping out seemed monumental, Santilli says.

"At first, it was about finding out what I could do," she says. "I wanted to write some really strong songs, songs that people would be struck by if I just sat at the piano and played them.

"It's like when Prince sings and plays Purple Rain, people freak out and go, 'What a beautiful song!' "

If the crowds she's drawing are any indication, Santilli is creating a well-deserved buzz.


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