Jorge Ben Jor | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Jorge Ben Jor 

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Thumbnail sketches of Brazilian music usually emphasize bossa nova legends (Joao Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim) or tropicalistas (Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil), a tendency that unfortunately neglects the work of journeyman Jorge Ben Jor. One of the first songs Jor wrote, the 1963 bossa nova classic "Mas que nada," has been covered by more than 200 artists, including Sergio Mendes, who had a hit with it in 1966; his rhythmically fierce ode to soccer, "Ponta de lanca africano (Umbabarauma)," has become one of the most instantly recognizable tunes from Brazil since it appeared as the lead track on the landmark 1989 comp Brazil Classics 1: Beleza Tropical. And as Veloso himself has written, Jor was the first Brazilian style synthesist, forging an indelible alliance between samba and funk that predates tropicalia by years. On his earliest records the groove came first, even if that meant stretching the melody in unconventional ways, and by the late 60s his music was deeply funky. After he released his masterpiece, Africa Brasil, in 1976, the quality of his work declined, but in the past decade he's been on an upswing both commercially (a free concert in Rio in 1994 drew three million people) and creatively. His latest album, Reactivus amor est (Turba philosophorum) (Universal Music Latino), plods here and there, but it's an improvement over most of his recent work. This is his long-overdue Chicago debut; for fans of Brazilian music, Jor playing in an intimate venue like HotHouse is akin to the Stones doing a gig at the Hideout. Mon 2/21, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo, 312-362-9707, $40, $30 for students. See Tuesday.

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