Brazilian Wax #2

By | 09 September, 2020

This is the second of regular Brazilian Wax round-ups which focus on the latest musical output from Brazil. As British Summer Time starts drawing to a close and autumn’s forthcoming releases edge nearer, this month’s round-up will focus on records that have fallen through the cracks, strayed from beaten tracks and impressed me most during the last month. Here’s the best recent releases from O País Tropical, with special attention given to three highlights:

Full-Length Albums

HIGHLIGHT

Sztu – Lances
(Selo Traste)

Under the unassuming nom de plume Sztu, visual artist André Sztutman dropped his debut solo musical work Lances at the end of August to little pomp. Released three years after it was recorded at São Paulo’s Estúdio Doze Dólares, the polymath Paulista’s turn towards this medium is an absolute joy. Its eight tracks feature some of Brazil’s great contemporary talents, among them: William Bica (Teto Preto) on percussion and trombone, João Fideles (Caixa Cubo) on drums, Arthur Decloet (Wild Music) on bass, Maria Beraldo on clarinet and Thiago Nassif at the helm on production duties. And it’s Nassif’s influence that is immediately noticeable on opener “Resta Um Gesto” – the stumbling violão, stressed on the second and fourth beat of the bar, the angular derivations into distortion and sampled mutterings… He also shares Nassif’s ear for unconventional but undeniably catchy melodies.

The succeeding “Bicho Esqueredo” is richly textured, with jubilant horns and pifanos fluttering. Meanwhile, “Fogaréu e Aguaceiro”, with expressive broken chords and harp, is a heaving and swelling ocean that sits somewhere between Primal Scream’s “Inner Flight” and Maurice Ravel’s “Introduction and Allegro”. It builds, shimmering with female vocal samples, into an amorphous wash of sound, teetering on a suspended group-harmony before spilling into the title-track. Lances has many translations, Sztutman expounds, “a gesture, a fleeting movement, as a move in a soccer game, or a dice throw, or romantic fling.” He cites MC Smith’s baile funk tune “Lance é um Lance” before nodding to Stéphane Mallarmé’s proto-Modernist poem “A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance” – influential for Sztutman because it introduces “the possibility of using words in a plastic, concrete way.” Sztu’s meticulously textured album certainly feels similarly tangible and concrete. 

The album’s centrepiece, “Lances”, is a gorgeous flugelhorn and violão duet, with colourful extended chords and hushed vocals. Highlight “Nenhum Um” trickles along pensively in 7/4 before intricate percussion, plucked violão and a diminished electric guitar part whisk the piece into a higher stratosphere. Meanwhile, “Rasgar O Pano” is an exquisite samba awash with delicate percussion, cuica and chorus-laden guitar. There’s a wonderful descending motif that sounds almost lifted from Haroldo Lobo’s “Tristeza”, and it’s hard not to draw comparisons between “Rasgar…” and the role “Samba De Orly” plays on Chico Buarque’s ground-breaking Construção. This is an album so much in dialogue with Brazil’s greatest popular music (“a kind of sacred ring where I always wanted to set foot”), that when, in July 2017, Sztutman moved to Bogotá for an Interdisciplinary Masters in Artes Vivas (Live Arts), he put off its release. Sztu had to be back in Brazil before putting out Lances – we can all count our lucky stars that he didn’t stay in Colombia for a doctorate…

HIGHLIGHT

suave – brasil, um sonho intenso
(unsigned)

“A revolutionary is one who does not follow a model / one who will invent an experience that isn’t copied / because who has to copy is conservative.” So declares Marxist philosopher and lawyer Alysson Mascaro at a #VazaJato debate, sampled on suave’s “aquecimiento da massa”. Thus considered, “brasil, um sonho intense” is fairly revolutionary: a twenty-second intro sampling a cistern flushing precedes five frenetic sound collages that are boundlessly inventive. Heralded by cowbells, “aquecimiento da massa” is an onslaught of batucada, fuzzy synths and war-cry horns, all underpinned by a thundering four-to-the-floor. It’s a clattering, arresting piece that is extra-terrestrially modern and yet rooted in the soil of Brazilian samba tradition.

The following “arrebatamento epistêmico” (“epistemic rapture”) flows seamlessly in its wake: a samba’s agogô, rumbling drums and handclaps guide the listener through a moody wash of arpeggiated synths (sampled from a Yu-Gi-Oh! PlayStation game), while a sampled history professor fights to give a lecture on the etymology of Macumba. “foda” is a spectral piece that drifts quietly, with swung snares and midi-sounding trumpet, before “eterno agora”, sampling Roberto de Carvalho’s nineties power-ballad of the same name, arrives as the most structured melody-led piece. A plodding start – all breathy synth pads and slowed vocals – falls into rhythm with a trip-hop beat and saxophone solo that might have come out of an Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack. 

The final piece, like a digitalised Pedro Dos Santos & Sebastião Tapajos collaboration or an off-cut from Jorge Degas and Marcelo Salazar’s “Muxima” (1995), features intricate, lively percussion. It’s a moment of respite, with swelling flutes and sampled bird sounds. But it would be an unfitting finale to suave’s frenzied album were it not to descend into one final melee of noise: suddenly, the percussion finds new force, becoming a timpani of galloping hooves… but the climax never comes. Impossible to predict, suave’s inspired, fertile album ends with one last “revolutionary” flourish – the build dissolves into a mist of reverb and rainforest noises. And we’re left with the disquieting lines: “everyone who looks inside themselves wakes up/ every king must hang himself/ raptured in troubled waters”. 

Eduardo Hopper – Gratidão Infinita
(Inmelo Music)

With 21 years’ experience performing alongside the likes of Zimbo Trio, Dominginhos and Johnny Alf, it is somewhat remarkable that such prolific a creator as guitarist, cavaquinho player and music professor, Eduardo Hopper, has just released his first album. What’s no surprise, though, is that, for a first release as band-leader, Hopper’s debut is impeccably tight. Opening number “Onomatopeia” begins fast and fluent with Hopper in percussive rhythm-guitar mode. Fábio Leandro’s gymnastic piano solo is jumpy while still sounding impressively dexterous above Daniel De Paula’s breakneck drums.

Hopper’s richly harmonic playing and dexterity both soloing and comping is testament to his inexhaustible career sessioning alongside other bandleaders. His solo on “Yemenjazz” is conversational and wonderfully melodic; on the occasionally Third-Stream “Cualquer Coisa Parecida”, the nylon-string violão deftly swings in and out of wonderfully-arranged horn parts, meanwhile, on the jazz-funk “Em Cima do Muro”, Hopper’s blues playing is playful – each scalic run or leap sounding effortless. Hopper’s playing is equally beguiling during quieter moments: for example, the beginning of “Siônica” where, in a gentle mood, he feels out colourful voicings with lyrical ease, setting an introspective tone evocative of Philippe Catherine’s more meditative work. He’s certainly a virtuoso worth his salt – ten seconds of the final cavaquinho-led track, “Dona Alzira Vai Viajar”, will prove that. In fact, if there’s anything that works to this album’s detriment? It’s too perfect – too polished, too neat and self-contained. But as weaknesses go, “too perfect” is one you wouldn’t mind being labelled with.

São Paulo Panic – São Paulo Panic
(Berthold Records)

São Paulo Panic is an unlikely ensemble of world-spanning jazz instrumentalists that came together following 2019’s jazzahead! trade fair and festival in Bremen. Having hosted a panel discussing the border-breaking “language of jazz”, singer and Paulista, Dani Gurgel decided to put her preaching into practice and invited several musicians to São Paulo for ten days with BERTHOLD records.

The resulting record, that arrived mid-summer, is a very tight, technically impressive suite of eleven slightly over-produced but imaginative compositions. Opener “Big Dreams” has a lovely brooding melody and Gurgel’s vocals – a highlight throughout the album – hold a trace of Flora Purim which is charming if not wholly enchanting. “Sem Ar” soars and is the most vibrant of the compositions, while “Com Tempo” showcases Gurgel’s syrupy vocals once more – this time tonally recalling Ana Caram and engaged in an entrancing dialogue with Timo Vollbrecht’s saxophone. There’s a lot to love about this album. But what lets down São Paulo Panic is a lack of vitality. That this is a session project is clear; beyond the odd swelling crescendo its dynamics rarely change, there’s a frustrating lack of dissonance or unshackled solos – each player might be technically able but too often they’re playing within themselves. In fact, at times it sounds like each instrumentalist might be politely sitting in on Gurgel’s panel discussion rather than a recording session.

Singles & EPs

HIGHLIGHT

Tangolo Mangos – tngl_mngs.rar
(Tangolo Mangos, dist. Tratore)

It can be hard to tell, in these extraordinary times, whether inventive bedroom production, through-composed skits and lo-fi experimentation is thoughtful, creative ingenuity or merely the last resort for marooned musicians of the COVID-19 era. Certainly, there’s been no dearth of hushed, finicky bedroom rock, minimal electronics and neo-soul ‘study beats’ to accompany the claustrophobia. But as enthralling as lo-fi inventiveness might have originally sounded, nine months into the pandemic, the ‘coronavirus album’ is beginning to feel just a little bit tired; the new normal is no longer new, just normal. Nevertheless, on latest EP tngl_mngs.rar, Bahian folk-psych outfit Tangolo Mangos manage to amass an assemblage of imaginative songs that, while unequivocally ‘Coronavirus-influenced’, remain nimble and unfailingly entertaining. 

tngl_mngs.rar (as evidenced by the title) is hugely influenced by cyberculture, the band adopting a “modus operandi based on the exchange of files, bytes and data” between the individually isolated band members. Its vapourwave cover – that incongruously showcases an empty Honey Cheerios box – and file-name song titles attest to this M.O.. But the EP’s computer-generated aesthetic goes beyond its packaging. Indeed, with limited technical resources, and inhibited by a fragmented and laborious recording process, the Salvador four-piece abandoned works on a full-length follow-up to Mangas a Caminho da Feira, No. 1 (2019), and dug-up five loose ideas which acted as springboards for digital experimentation. The experimentation is most prevalent is in its production and front and centre from instrumental opener, “<gelE1a_404>.avi”, with jittery samples and computer bleeps ornamenting more characteristic Big Muff guitar noodling and metre triple-quadruple time shifts. 

Single “hipoteses_telhas_pandas_ovelhas.wav” opens with comparatively bare violão and vocals, building layers of baroque guitar with plenty of 60s psych twang, tight bass and pretty backing oohs and ahhs. With interludes of glockenspiel and whistling, it is almost overly retromanic, however, with interesting stops and rhythmic change-ups as well as variegated production techniques and instrumentation (a certain outcome of bedroom-production multi-tracking), the piece is always exciting and vibrant. “le_paSsarim.exe” enters with sounds of seagulls and waves, before a lilting violão part and French gang-vocals descends into electric circus music with juddering instrumental digitisation. The dexterity with which the band flip from one sound to the next is always engaging and it is clear that the disintegrated, bitty approach to recording has had a part to play in this – certainly practically and also idealistically. As a complete package, tngl_mngs.rar works like the internet: a web of independent ideas linked together. The result is expansive, vibrant and a lot of fun.

Jadsa – TAXIDERMIA vol. 1
(Balaclava Records)

TAXIDERMIA vol.1 is instantly captivating with layered vocals on opener “SOU GENTE” reminiscent of Joyce’s acrobatic singing on “Passarinho Urbano”. The production is lively with playful vocal loops, juddering synth pads and warm bass hum – like a fine mist across a dark stage, it sets the tone for Jadsa’s mesmeric EP. “SECANTE CAJU” is equally brooding and features rapper Jéssica Caitano. But it’s on the following “XIRÊ” that things really click into gear: with a beautiful vocal sample, real foot-stomping percussion and bouncy production, it’s sure to grow into a dance floor favourite.

Iara Rennó – AfrodisíacA
(Iara Rennó, Macunaópera Produções Artísticas LTDA)

On her website, Iara Rennó dwells on her latest project, AfrodisíacA: “Is it series? Is it music? Is it poetry? Is it operetta? Saga? Is it food? Is it listening? Something to see? It is a bit of everything.” Rennó continues, evocative of Herbert Marcuse’s Eros & Civilisation: “Those who are our enemies, who oppress us, kill us, do everything to end our ability to feel pleasure. Our joy is their grief. Let us show that our libido can do more.” Call it what you want, chapters one and two of AfrodisíacA are wholly captivating: each comprise of one spoken-word collaboration – reminiscent of Walter Franco’s or Caetano Veloso’s in the seventies – and one atmospheric, ominous song. Between the two chapters, Rennó has enlisted plenty of Brazil’s most innovative and exciting musicians as fellow collaborators – Anelis Assumpção, Tulipa Ruiz, Ava Rocha and Negro Leo, to name a few. On the thudding “A Não Ser Que Me Ame”, though, it is the snarled vocals of Teto Preto’s Laura Diaz that Rennó most resembles. Rennó’s adaptation of the song co-written by Rodrigo Campos and the incomparably talented arranger Rômulo Froes, builds to an epic climax like a Bond theme song for the uninhibited.

Ninguém – Balanço Oculto vol. 1
(B.O. Força Bruta/Taj My House, dist. Tratore)

Sometimes, when it comes to música popular brasileira, songs carry while being for the most part unremarkable – the sing-song chorus with gang vocals, the ear-worm melody soaring over thick bass lines and syncopated guitar… they might be ten-a-piece but it doesn’t mean they’re not individually exuberant, danceable and, above all, extremely evocative of palm-fringed shores, frenetic futebol de salão, and bustling dance halls. The MPB that producer, vocalist and guitarist Ninguém makes is in the mould of Jorge Ben and Trio Mocotó and it is everything you might expect: buoyant bass lines, choppy funk guitars and group sing-along choruses. Ninguém’s gravelly vocals recall Tim Maia and are soulful while remaining conversational and bolstered by a crisp (if slightly overcooked) production courtesy of dub-producing drummer and Paulista, ChinDub. This EP is exuberance in bag-fulls; it’s just really good fun. 

Gus Levy – Magia Magia
(Kudos Records, Light In The Attic, Disk Union Japan)

Strummed seventh chords, female backing vocals, bluesy guitar riffs and elastic bass, Gus Levy’s “Juliana” (one of three pre-released tracks from forthcoming album, Magia Magia) is samba rock á la Bebeto. The imminent album is supposedly inspired by “a conception of the universe ruled by feminine entities”; with overtly sexualised cover art and an all-male list of musical inspirations (Jorge Ben, Djavan, Connan Mockasin and Negro Leo), I’m still yet to divine quite how. But the taught songwriting with vibrant alt-pop sensibilities (maybe something to do with Ana Frango Eléctrico’s guest vocal appearances?), makes these three tracks thoroughly enjoyable.

Caixa Cubo, Zé Leônidas “Palavras”
(Caixa Cubo, dist. Tratore)

The opening bass ostinato on Caixa Cubo’s “Palavras” is relentlessly catchy. It enters alone, inconspicuously, before guest vocalist and long-time collaborator, Zê Leônidas, jumps atop, mirroring it. A cymbal rings and Rhodes enter as the somewhat understated introduction finds its feet, blooming from what sounds like session improvisation into a tight, dynamic groove. As the piece builds in swagger, Caixa Cubo’s cited influences – Azymuth and Yussef Kamaal – add up: this is groove music in a jazz trio format. Its climax, with ample drum fills doesn’t sound too far away from the one-time trailblazers of the UK jazz-dance revival.

TARDA “Buraco De Afundar”
(self-released)

The Minas Gerais fourpiece TARDA were brought together by a mutual fascination in the ancient Chinese divination text “I Ching”. They are influenced on their new single, particularly, by the hexagram ‘Abyss’, a rumination on water as a unifying expanse: “Um copo, uma tigela, uma jarra/ Não poderá nos conter/ Somos água.” (“A glass, a bowl, a jar cannot contain us. We are water.”) Like its lyrical content, sonically, TARDA’s “Buraco de Afundar” – sitting between Portishead electronics and Slowdive melancholy – is inspired by water. It is a cathartic wash of sound, through which Paola Rodrigues’ spoken word guides the listener. 

Luiza Brina – Deriva
(Luiza Brina, dist. Tratore)

In the last round-up, Luiza Brina’s single “Oração 12” was described as drifting by with a sunny effortlessness. This could be extended to the rest of an EP that really takes the single’s “short and slightly built” formula and runs with it. The other four songs on Brina’s delightful new Deriva EP are also, like “Oração…”, duets. Not that Brina needs any back-up: her vocals are perfectly controlled and stunningly effortless. “Quando Isso Passar” has energetic violão accompaniment and lovely chorus harmonies. “Súbita Canção”, meanwhile, brings a welcome change of timbre with a fuzzy organ intro and Arthur Nogueira’s warm, thick guest vocals mirroring Brina’s in octaves. The dainty “Butterfly”, sung in English, is full of faux-innocence and glib non-sequiturs – “I can’t pay my bills on time / Maybe I’ll become famous”, recalling Mathilde Wigre’s “Arevekty” which we premiered a couple of weeks ago. And meditative closer “Garrafa Ao Mar” ties up the collection with shimmering synth and atmospheric feedback. Clocking in at 13 minutes, Deriva sails by so swiftly and gracefully it might hardly cause a stir, but Brina’s serious songwriting credentials make quite a splash.

Bruno Cardozo – Sumbawa
(Baticum Discos, dist. Tratore)

We could play “Who has Bruno Cardozo worked with?” for hours. The keys man has a remarkably impressive CV, having accompanied the likes of Rita Lee, Fafá de Belém, César Camargo Mariano, Luiz Melodia, Elza Soares, Emilio Santiago, Gal Costa, Airto Moreira… But his wealth of experience and time in the game certainly doesn’t mean his latest EP, Sumbawa isn’t markedly modern. At its climax, the electrically-charged title-track sounds like it could be the latest UK jazz dance floor-filler, with gently pulsing synths, a killer bass ostinato and an absolutely tireless drum part. Texturally dense, clicks and claves, whirring wind effects and electronic dubbing enriches this nine-minute epic. It’s no wonder its plodding B-sides (“Isa” and “Sunrise”) sound exhausted.

Electronic Music

Kauan Marco – Escola Da Rua
(40%Foda/Maneiríssimo)

40%Foda/Maneiríssimo is a special label with a prolific roster of inventive producers making music with a wholly distinctive sound. Analogue, VGM-inspired, full of humour and, more often than not, unrelentingly funky, there’s very few swings and misses within their repertoire. When Kauan Marco’s Histórias came out at the back end of 2019, he instantly became, for me, their most exciting producer. “Cossa Tirana” – the opening track of the 2019 album – strutted like Parliament Funkadelic playing the Mission Impossible song. It was an album of dramatic organ underpinned by unrelenting four-to-the-floor drum triggers. Naturally, it was an exciting day when its follow-up, Escola Da Rua (Road School) was announced.

Described by his label as “the phenomenon Kauan Marco, the virtuoso pianist from Socorro”, this album sees Marco dedicate more time to his keyboard. On “A Man Called Cory”, arpeggiated synths trickle over a swaggering breakbeat with so much searing energy it’d trip a circuit-board. Mid-track, Marco pulls out an incandescent solo that, for an undoubted club anthem, is certainly on the freer side. “Simpsons” is, unsurprisingly, an outrageously funked-up version of the Simpson’s theme-tune, which is brilliantly placed next to a sped-up version of Egberto Gismonti’s atmospheric “O Sonho”. Meanwhile, “Mc Parker”, borrowing Charlie Parker’s name, sees Marco’s soloing rooted in a jazz idiom. In a stroke of absurd brilliance it sits atop a trickling Willesden Dodgers loop – an incongruence Marco finds amusing: “I mean, there’s a Charlie Parker reference on top of a Willesden Dodgers loop… so even if it was bad, it would be released”. It’s a joyful 40 minutes full of little jokes, uncompromising energy and some of the summer’s most danceable rhythms. Most of Kauan Marco’s music sounds as if a Nintendo Mii version of Vulfpeck covered Azymuth’s “Jazz Carnaval” at a lounge on Wii Sports Resort. Which, obviously, is brilliant.

Simo/Antonio Simonetti – Alimentado Por Flores
(Pirajá)

Alimentado por flores is priced at $1,000 on Bandcamp and I don’t doubt there’ll be plenty out there more than happy to drop a bag of sand for this exquisite collection of ambient soundscapes and intricate bass music. “Bill Laranja” begins with whirring vocals, shimmering harmonics and raining percussion before a wriggling trip-hop beat moves in, accompanied by marimba-like melodies. “Metal Amado” is seven minutes of blissful ambience, while “Keep Searching” is frenetic house with soothing vocals, flute interludes and machine-gun bass. It’s an album of nuanced electronic musics so meticulously put together that it wouldn’t feel out of place in a basement club, nor a yoga retreat.

Vermelho Wonder “Criptogramas”
(In Their Feelings)

Vermelho Wonder’s latest single is characteristically theatrical. Released on the In Their Feelings labels, “Criptogramas” is five minutes of noiry synth music, with the self-identifying post-human clown Ivana Wonder’s poker-faced vocals soaring above strutting electronics. Zopelar’s remix transforms the piece into an ominous lounge groove – but his harmonic accompaniments aren’t always on key. 

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