Brasil: A Century of Song
Blue Jackel Entertainment 4xCD box set (also available
A superb collection of major Brazilian musical styles
Folk & Traditional, CD-5001-2 (60:19)
Carmen Miranda, Ary Barroso with Mário Reis, Orquestra Brasília,
Adoniran Barbosa, Wilson Moreira, Pena Branca e Xavantinho, Papete, Master
Cobrinha Verde and group, Papete e Coro, Luiz Gonzaga, Geraldo Azevedo,
João do Vale, Quarteto Negro, and other various artists
Carnaval, CD-5002-2 (58:11)
Paulinho da Viola, Grupo Familília G.R.E.S. Império Serrano,
Ilê Aiyê, Neguinho da Beija-Flôr G.R.E.S. Beija Flôr de
Milópolis, Movimento de Compositores da Baixada Fluminense, Ardolo
Melodia G.R.E.S. União da Ilho do Goverhador, Old Guard of Portela,
Genaro da Bahia G.R.E.S. Estacão Primeira de Mangueira, Cartola, Genero
G.R.E.S. Portela, Silvinho da Portela G.R.E.S. Portela, Raízes do
Pelô, Dominguinhos do Estacio G.R.E.S. Imperatriz Leopoldinense, Unidos
da Vila Isable with Martinho da Vila, Grupo Fundo de Quintal, Grupo Art
Popular, and other various artists
Bossa Nova Era, CD-5003-2 (66:45)
João Gilberto, J.T. Meirelles, Chico & Sergio Batera, Salvador,
Rubens Bassini, Jorge, Beth Carvalho, Sylvia Telles & Rosinha de Valenca,
Antonio Carlos Jobim & Jocafi, Chico Buarque de Hollanda, Toquinho &
Vinícius, Elizeth Cardoso & Cyro Monteiro, Quarteto em Cy, Toninho
Horta, Oscar Castro-Neves & Imperio Sertano, Edu Lobo, Jorge Arena, Baden
Powell & Trio, Leila Pinheiro, Grupo Beijo-Coralusp, Leny Andrade
MPBMúsica Popular Brasileira, CD-5004-2 (68:33)
Milton Nascimento (& Lo Borges), Tavinho Moura, Gal Costa with Filhos de
Gandhi, Clara Nunes, Beth Carvalho, Simone, Jorge Ben Jor, Ivan Lins, Edu Lobo,
Joyce, Marisa Monte, Daniela Mercury with Olodum, Tony Mola, Exalta Samba
The popular music of the U.S. had its sources in the European folk and salon
music of the colonists and in Black African musics brought over by slaves.
Brazilian music is similar in derivation but with at least two significant
differences. First, Brazils European influence came primarily from
Portugal and Southern Europe instead of the British Isles. If that suggests to
you less marching and more dancing, you would be right. And, secondly, the
music of the indigenous peoples remained an influence in Brazil, whereas such
music was almost totally ignored in the U.S. So, there are ingenious musical
instruments like the berimbau, an arched bow with a gourd resonator whose
single string is played with a stick. (The Brazilian slave trade may have
plundered different parts of Africa than the American trade, and so brought
different African musics to Brazil, but I am by no means knowledgable on that
subject.) The result is a tradition of popular music in Brazil that is every
bit as rich and varied as that of the U.S., but has taken off in different
directions. Instead of ragtime there is, lets say, chôro; instead
of blues, samba; instead of country, forró; instead of jazz, bossa nova;
instead of rock, MPB (música popular brasiliera). I dont mean to
imply these musics are all that similar, but merely to show that Brazilian
music is a gallimaufry comparable to that of the U.S. And, of course, Brazilian
music has influenced the music of the U.S., from Carmen Miranda to the bossa
nova (which in turn was heavily influenced by American "cool" jazz).
Even avant rocker Arto Lindsay (who was raised in Brazil) has recorded
O Corpo Sutil (the Subtle Body), which would fit comfortably in a
collection of modern Brazilian music.
With such a variety, where to get started? How about a tidy introduction to
four major styles of Brazilian music? Okay, here it is. (Yes, it came out three
years ago and we are just getting around to reviewing it. But, that
doesnt make it less interesting.) This collection was produced by Jack
ONeil, who has done a superb job finding exemplary recordings and putting
them together in truly listenable albums. Many of these recordings have never
before been released in the U.S., so even if you are a fan of Brazilian music,
there will be some pleasant surprises here. ONeil has the rare knack of
putting together compilations like this so they do not deteriorate into
hurkey-jerky randomness. Each of these albums, while focusing on a major style
of Brazilian music, also works simply as an album of great music. The four CDs
are available as a boxed set with a very informative booklet or separately, in
which case all you get is a track list. If you dont spring for the whole
set, Id suggest you contact Blue Jackel and see if they will sell you the
bookletits well worth it. You can put a CD on for company while
driving in your car or puttering around the house, but with the booklet, you
can sit, listen, read and learn.
The transfer of all these different recordings to CD is mostly well done.
ONeil has done an excellent job adjusting the volume level (and, I think,
judiciously equalizing the frequency range) from track to track, so that there
is little of the jarring change of sound that can occur on some compilations.
But there is also, on my system at least, a very minor tizz to the
high-frequencies that puts a hint of an edge on some of the vocals and makes
the drums sound a little more like sheets of metal than frame and skin. I
suspect this is not due to the original source recordings, since it occurs on
many of the tracks; perhaps it is an artifact of the particular
analog-to-digital converter used. It is not a big problemyou probably
wont even notice it unless you listen to the set as closely and as many
times as I have!but it is a mar on an otherwise exemplary production.
Now, what about the individual albums and performances? There is too much to
cover in detail here, but let me pick out some highlights.
On the "Folk and Traditional" album, we get a fast introduction to
the roots of Brazilian music. This disk has the greatest variety of the four,
encompassing field recordings as well as recordings by popular Brazilian
artists from the first half of the century. The disk starts out, confounding
expectation, with a 1941 recording by Carmen Miranda, she of the towering fruit
basket headdresses. The song is a tribute to the Brazilian spirit ("I have
in my body the scent of the samba") with an utterly infectious beat,
playing Mirandas energetic vocals over a simple background of guitar,
percussion and chanted vocals, and a superb single-string guitar solo. Other
highlights of the disk are two recordings of the wonderfully rough-voiced
Wilson Moreira, one of which is a chôro by Pixinguinha, one of
Brazils great popular composers. Chôro is late 19th century style
mixing Portuguese harmonies with African call-and-response structure, played on
guitars and other folk instruments with European trumpets and saxophones, and
featuring improvisation. Sounds like a description of early jazz? You bet, but
chôro has a purely Brazilian beat. And, like jazz, what is interesting is
not the sources of the invention but the beauty of the result. A transcendent
field recording of a Candomblé ceremony takes us right to the heart of
Black Brazil. The Candomblé religion combines elements of African
Spiritualism and Portuguese Catholicism. This is a vibrant live recording, with
sweat and incense hanging heavy in the humidity. There is also a superb
recording of a berimbau played by Papete, demonstrating the astonishing variety
of sounds this simple instrument can create. If you have heard Airto Moreira on
one of his recordings with or without his wife, Flora Purim, you may know the
berimbau. Papete is one of the original virtuosos, who yields nothing to Airto.
Carnaval in Rio de Janiero is the great party that occurs before Lent, the
equivalent of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. And what is a party without music?
During carnaval, musical troupes (the "escolas du samba," or samba
schools) take to the streets of Rio for competition and partying. Guitars,
batucada (batteries of percussion) and group singing are the order of the day.
If the "Folk and Traditional" album is a real mixture, the
"Carnaval" album is a much of a muchness, but that is probably
appropriate for a nonstop party like Carnaval. Great for your next outdoor
If you are of a certain age, you remember the bossa nova era. As far as that
goes, in the what-goes-around-comes-around 90s, we all know bossa nova.
Created by Brazilian musicians influenced by American jazzespecially the
"cool" sound of musicians like Stan Getz and Gerry
Mulliganbossa nova brought the street samba indoors to the night club.
Composed, sophisticated and definitely cool, bossa nova took the world by storm
mostly through derivative versions by everyone from Getz to Eydie Gorme. On the
third album, you can hear the real stuff. The album appropriately starts with
"A Felicidade," a tune from the movie Black Orpheus (set
during Carnaval) by bossa novas great composer Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Jobim was probably the best known Brazilian musician worldwide, and the
composer of dozens of wonderful tunes, including "One Note Samba,"
"Desafinado," "The Waters of March" and, of course,
"The Girl from Ipanema." Also appropriately, the tune is sung by the
great João Gilberto. Gilbertos low-key delivery might remind you
of Michael Franks, Boz Scaggs or J.J. Cale, all of whom I am sure have listened
hard to him. But what makes him inimitable is his rhythmic artistry, which
never fails to astound me. In "A Felicidade," listen to the way
Gilberto, accompanying himself on guitar, places his syllables both ahead and
behind the beat with the feel of a dancer. The rhythmic placement of his notes
is utterly logical, yet I cant predict where they will fall. He makes
Franks and crew sound like heavy-footed plodders. The next two songs, performed
by J.T. Meirelles and Beth Carvalho, make the bossa nova connection to the
street samba clear, as does "Oh, What a Sight" by Oscar-Castro Neves,
which incorporates a recording of a samba school into a complex bossa nova
composition. The rest of the album moves more toward the "cool"
sound, with both well-known bossa nova stars like Sylvia Telles (a gorgeous
rendering of Jobims "Dindi"), Chico Barque, Toquinho Horta and
Vinícius de Moraes as well as lesser known performers who are no less
Ignited by the cultural movement called "tropicalismo" in
Spanish-speaking South America or "tropicália" in Brazil, MPB,
or Música Popular Brasileira, was Brazils musical contribution to
the rock era. The final album strongly features Milton Nascimento, who is
considered by many to be Brazils finest living musician. Milton is truly
gifted, with a great voice and compositional skills, and astonishingly
wide-ranging musical interests, from indigenous folk songs to rock to jazz and
beyond. He has recorded many superb albums and he wrote the introduction to
this sets booklet. Here he is appropriately represented by three songs,
befitting his importance. (I am a big fan.) The rest of the album gives a good
representation of the wide variety of MPB. Highlights for me are Gal
Costas exotic "É dOxum," Jorge Ben Jors
infectious "O Dia Que O Sol Declarou O Sue Amor Pela Terra" and Ivan
Lins sensous "Clareou" (theres the berimbau again). Even
with all the treasures, though, the wealth of MPB (and Brazilian music in
general) is suggested by some of the great performers who are not represented
here: Elis Regina, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Maria Bethânia and
Djavan, for example. Subjects for further research (see below) once you digest
all this fine set has to offer. Glenn Brooks
of related interest
Here are some other albums and artists worth investigating if you decide to
explore Brazilian music further. Ive tried to pick a good starting
selection of old and new, but this should not be viewed as a definitive list. I
cant even be sure all these albums are still in print. But I can vouch
for the enjoyment they have given me.
For regular information on Brazilian music, check out Bossa
magazine, available at Tower Records stores. And a good Internet source of
information about Brazil itself is
Solo, Chesky Jazz
Shes third-generation Lebanese-Brazilian. She didnt compose any of
the tunes. So what makes it a Brazilian album? Assads incredible
inventiveness. You wont believe its a solo album. The recording is
very clear. By the way, her name is pronounced "bah-JEE ah-SAHJ."
Chameleon, i.e. Music (Polygram)
Badis brand-new album, with strings, didjeridu, and jungle sounds. Very
polished, by which I do not mean bordering on new
ageits too noisy and complex for that.
Jorge Ben, Tropical, Island
Maria Bethânia, Memória de Pele, Philips
Caetano Velosos sister and a stunningly dramatic performer in her own
Black Orpheus, Verve
Soundtrack to the film that fueled the bossa nova craze. Wonderful music by
Jobim and Luiz Bonfa.
Dori Caymmi, Dori Caymmi, Elektra
Complex and melodic.
Gal Costa, Gal Canta Caymmi, Philips
The best I have heard of Gals rather erratic recordings. And, at her
best, she is beyond category.
Djavan, Bird of Paradise (Não É Azul Mas É
Wonderfully romantic album by a fine singer and songwriter.
Gilberto Gil, Quanta, Mesa
Fresh album of twenty short songs about the Internet and other profundities.
João Gilberto, The Legendary João Gilberto,
Two CDs with thirty-eight classic 1958-61 EMI-Odeon recordings.
Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stone Flower, A&M
Recorded in America (by the great Rudy Van Gelder) with American musicians. But
the Jobim magic is in full force. "God and the Devil in the Land of the
Sun" is a striking thumbnail portrait of Brazil.
Margareth Menezes, Elegibo, Mango
Electric. She stole the show when she toured with David Byrne.
Marlui Miranda, Todos Os Sons, Blue Jackel
Digging farther back in Brazils musical heritage, an exotic album derived
from and influenced by music of the Brazilian Indians.
Clube de Esquina, EMI
Encontros e Despedidas, Polydor
Its hard to choose. I could as well pick Sentinela
Hermeto Pascoal, Slaves Mass, Warner Bros.
Jazzy, experimental, funny, wild, exuberant. A great live show if you get the
Elis Regina, That Woman, vol. II, Tropical Storm
This has the astonishing "Alo, alo marciano" with Elis scatting like
Antonio Carlos Jobim & Elis Regina, Elis & Tom,
Elis sings Jobim, and he joins in. Classic.
Sivuca, Norte Forte, Tropical Music
Energetic selection of instrumental dances. But if you have a copy of
Forro e Frevo, let me know!
Uakti, Uakti, Verve
An utterly original group that makes its own instruments.
Caetano Veloso, Cores, Nomes, Verve
Astonishingly prolific and inventive. This album has the unforgettable
"Ilê Ayê," co-composed and recorded with Velosos
Tom Zé, Brazil Classics 4: The Best of Tom
Zé, Luaka Bop (Warner Bros.)
A compilation by Talking Headman David Byrne of hard-to-find recordings by this
experimental pop artist. Byrne also has other good compilations in the series.
Brazil: ForróMusic for Maids and Taxi Drivers, Rounder
Folksy accordion-based dance music not represented in the Blue Jackel set.