Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Brazilian Music, Then and Now

Posted By on 04.20.11 at 01:31 PM

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Most pop and rock artists follow a new album with a tour where they play the new music—it's called supporting a record. But in Brazil it increasingly seems like artists follow a new album not just with a tour to support it but also with another new album chronicling that tour. This recording often shares its title with the previous studio effort, with the words "ao vivo" appended. These days I tend to steer clear of such releases because they usually add nothing to the studio album, but I made an exception for MTV Ao Vivo Zii e Zie (Natasha/Universal, Brazil) by Caetano Veloso. The music is also available on a DVD.

Zii e Zie (2009) is the second album Veloso has cut with a lean trio—the first was —that's prodded him to make some of his best music in well over a decade. I didn't really need to hear how the band—guitarist Pedro Sá, bassist Ricardo Dias Gomes, and drummer Marcelo Callado—played those same tunes live (the answer: very well, and in the case of "A Base de Gauntánamo" even better), but I wanted to see how they'd tackle the vintage Veloso material on the disc, from tropicalia-era classics like "Irene" and "Não Identificado" to early-80s tracks like "Trem das Cores" that were blighted in their original incarnations by terrible production choices. They group doesn't really change the arrangements of the old tunes, except to adapt them for a relatively stripped-down setting, but Veloso's singing has never been more crystalline in its beauty or more piercing in its clarity. He also covers "Volver," a classic tango by Carlos Gardel, and "Água," a recent tune by Kassin (of the +2 crew, which features Veloso's son Moreno). The biggest problem—and for me it's definitely a problem—is that Veloso's audience tends to sing along with most of the songs. I understand the impulse to join in on material that's close to your heart, but frankly if I wanted to hear average folks sing I'd hang out in a karaoke bar. The bland audience-chorus singing nearly smothers many performances here.

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Speaking of vintage Brazilian music, the good folks at London's Soul Jazz label recently issued a sublime collection called Bossa Nova and the Rise of Brazilian Music in the 1960s. The double CD includes an attractive, photo-packed 76-page booklet with a long but confusing essay. (If you're interested in the history of bossa nova, look no further than Ruy Castro's Bossa Nova.) The third paragraph of the Soul Jazz essay says the genre essentially ended in 1964, but 21 of the collection's 34 tracks were originally released after that date. Of course, the second part of the set's title does mention the rise of Brazilian music in the 60s, and the impact of bossa is clear in later tracks by the likes of Milton Nascimento, Gilberto Gil, and Geraldo Vandré. Anyway I'm not going to let quibbles about the booklet interfere with my enjoyment of this music. As a mix of great Brazilian material this set is hard to top. I already had most of these songs, but they sound totally fresh in this context. Compilers Gilles Peterson and Stuart Baker have done a remarkable job curating and sequencing the music, culling a fat-free selection from a huge world of possibilities. I'd go as far as to say that this collection does for 60s bossa nova and modern samba what Luaka Bop's Beleza Tropical did for 70s and early 80s MPB—it illuminates a musical environment where connections are audible and where the listener can quickly get a sense of the range, beauty, and innovation at work during a very exciting time.

Today's playlist:

Satintones, Satintones Sing! The Complete Tamla and Motown Singles Plus (Ace)
Lawnmower, West (Clean Feed)
Hedzoleh Soundz, Hedzoleh (Soundway)
Juxtaposed, Tsar Bomba (Bolage)
Philip Selway, Familial (Nonesuch)

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