Brazilian Wax #603 March, 2021
Making up for Carnaval’s cancelling, this February has seen some stellar releases from Brazil. Many on this list maintain the effervescent élan of that midsummer celebration, while even more re-frame and re-invent Brazilian cultural tradition in vivid ways. So, while the traditionally polychrome parties are put on hold, this latest Brazilian Wax roundup still proves there’s plenty of cultural production from O País Tropical to stimulate the senses.
Luca Argel – Samba de Guerrilha (Self-Released)
Attempting to précis Luca Argel’s sprawling six-year multi-media work Samba De Guerriilha for the purposes of presenting a succinct and pithy review would be a wholly reductive task. Even if we were to ignore the fact that the final album – a 21-track political history of samba that alternates between historical song and spoken story – is the culmination of countless work-shows, written articles, seminars and radio programmes, the sound alone of Samba De Guerrilha radiates such erudite and elegant expansiveness that, to summarise it here would be impossible.
Indeed, discounting the stirring historical accounts (narrated by Luanda-born Lisbon-based author Telma Tvon) and the political potency of each handpicked samba, the eleven musical performances are, on their own, startlingly catchy and crafty. The Porto-based, Rio-born writer-musician emanates a certain sophistication on each of his lean and lithe sambas, which so often spare density and decibels in favour of a smart spaciousness. Minimalism is never undervalued, evinced early on in Argel’s choice to cover Paulo César Pinheiro’s and Maurício Tapajós’s “Pesadelo”, a one-chord samba that gets an Arto Lindsay no-wave treatment, with distorted and delayed guitar giving the piece a jerky stride. Similarly, opener “Samba Do Operário”, foregrounded by Argel’s wonderfully measured vocals, stays sparse with effervescent hand-clicks and muted guitar plucks.
Later, “Almirante Negro (O Mestre-Sala Dos Mares)” stands out for its comparative gusto – a jubilant number that blossoms from subdued guitars through R&B handclaps to acrylic indie at its midpoint. Meanwhile, the penultimate “Vá Cuidar da Sua Vida”, enlisting Brazilian hip-hop expats O Gringo Sou Eu, thrills as a sinewy baile-funk-inclined number. On Samba de Guerrilha, Argel proves that the eponymous music still shines in new contexts. Indeed, irrespective of style, each samba interpretation, here, carries a modesty and complexity that stays chic while sating the modern appetite for melodic hooks, rhythmic spirit and musical drama.
And then there’s the words. Why is much of the album’s music so subtle? Because its compelling words demand centre-stage. Take, for instance, the opener’s arresting Marxist lyric which deals with commodity fetishism and workforce alienation, written by Alfredo Português, a Portuguese expat who fled from Salazar’s dictatorship: “se o operário soubesse/ reconhecer o valor que tem seu dia/ por certo que valeria/ duas vezes mais o seu salário/ mas como não quer reconhecer/ é ele escravo sem ser/ de qualquer usurário/ abafa-se a voz do oprimido” (“if the worker knew/ to recognise the value of his day/ it would certainly be worth/ twice as much as his wages./ But since he doesn’t want to recognise/ that he’s the slave, without being,/ of any usurer,/ the voice of the oppressed is muffled.”) Following the song is an account of Português’ life. And, entwined in this story, is the beginning of a dialogue between Brazilian politics and protest music – a dialogue that endures on this album.
The subsequent “Pesadelo”, anthem of the 1970’s Araguaia guerrilla movement, is given equally meticulous treatment. As is “Virada”, written by Noca da Portela – a composer and affiliate of the Communist Party. In fact, all songs and stories throughout the forty-five-minute album are so carefully assembled, there’s not a moment on Samba de Guerrilha that doesn’t astound in its depth nor delight in its musical and historical story-telling.
Igapó de Almas – Mar de Paradoxos (Rizomarte Records)
Before the Rio Grande Do Norte outfit Igapó de Almas began work on their third full-length, there was a unanimous decision made on the album name – Mar de Paradoxos (“Sea of Paradoxes”) – and its aesthetics: “less is more”. Succeeding on both fronts, Mar De Paradoxos is, indeed, an album of beguiling paradoxes: it is equally indebted to North-Eastern cultural tradition, and unmistakably urban. It is, likewise, an album bursting with creativity and innovation, while remaining understated and starkly spacious.
The opener testifies this last point: amid gentle whirring effects, vocalist Pedras’ commanding baritone rolls like tumbleweed into empty space. Added slowly is a sparingly strummed bass, pitch-bent keys, steel-string guitar and whispered backing vocals, drawing focus but never busying the beguiling opener’s texture.
The ensuing “Ijara”, written and performed by multi-award-winning director, actor and interdisciplinary Alice Carvalho, swings from equally subtle percussion towards an abrasive speak-rap groove with glitchy dubs. While the tone changes, song-writing curios characteristic of Mar de Paradoxos endure: firstly, the track is as spacious as its predecessor. Second, these pieces don’t seem to move forward, but horizontally, feeling out new textures and tones rather than building complex structures or melody arcs.
This second characteristic can be attributed to “Gotas Do Tempo”. Like Kanye West sampling Lyra Pramuk’s 2020 album Fountain, gossamer layers of vocals and synths build up here before Tiago Terras’ honeyed autotune gloops on top. The vocal earworms, redolent of Desire Marea, flick their tails above swelling synths and liquid percussion, but don’t really move towards anything – happy to swirl about in the soupy texture. Meanwhile, on centre-point “Jellyfish”, following digeridoo-like modulations, a change of tone sees a baggy percussion ostinato pull the piece towards a Father John Misty croon which, while filled out with fuzzed guitar, stays, as per their less-is-more tenet, translucent (and limp) – like its titular sea creature.
Indeed, while texturally complex and tonally intriguing, the lack of filled-out songs here mean Igapó’s tricks of timbre begin running thin. “Água Água (Passa)”, featuring poet Netuno Leão, begins, again, with slack percussion and reverb-heavy guitars, but it just doesn’t go anywhere. Contrary to Leão, the music says very little. Rather than light and spacious, it’s empty: just full of air. Like a bag of crisps, deceptively packaged to seem bursting at the seams, the track is disappointingly half-full.
There’s endless empty space on Mar de Paradoxos – seconds skip by unnoticed. On “Sertão Maldito”, you think you’re listening to an introduction and suddenly you’re two and a half minutes through the song. Not that they’re not a delightful two and a half minutes, filled with bell-ringing electronics, chimes and twangy guitar… It’s just that, behind the diaphanous layers, it’s hard to see the outline of something bigger arriving. Eventually the beat comes in: a fantastic stuttering trap groove with affected vocals that become more like instrumental layers than a steady melodic keel to keep the piece above washing-machine waters. But with a majority of the time being spent on the textured opening, this ephemeral section passes by leaving the listener wanting more.
Mellifluous closer “Nuvem” is, comparatively, a treat, with its Cate Le Bon baroque-pop guitar pattern easier to hang on to. Making use of an instantly gratifying suspension-resolution pattern, it builds and intertwines with further guitars and a wicked backbeat, making for one of the most solid pieces in this puzzling album. But with the introduction of an arpeggiated synth, the track takes a turn and runs out of puff, as if there’s not enough pressure holding the composition together to prevent its own collapse.
Mar de Paradoxos conjures one image for me. At London’s Science Museum play-area – a popular childhood haunt for London’s primary schoolers – you can find a build-your-own-bridge game consisting of various yellow wedges which, when jammed together between two points, form an arch bridge. Once fixed into place, these wedges are strong enough to bear the weight of plural awestruck children. But, miss out one such wedge, the structure collapses, lacking the pressure to keep shape. On Mar de Paradoxos, too many compositions lack a wedge or two – and tracks that promise to carry your weight flatter to deceive.
A Espectacular Charanga Do França – Nunca Não É Carnaval (YB Music)
The eponymous noun deemed spectacular by Metá Metá saxophonist Thiago França forestalls the resounding boom of his latest album Nunca Não É Carnaval (“It is Never Not Carnaval”). Denoting the clamorous brass and percussion groups that entertain street-partiers and cheer on football teams all over Brazil, França’s “Charanga” is determined to remain vociferous in the face of Carnaval’s corona-enforced cancelling. In fact, being so suited to Carnaval performances, this charanga‘s latest album takes its name from the band’s failed attempt at recording an album that didn’t sound so “carnavalesque”. But, on their eighth album, while they can’t shake the Carnaval sound, the band’s booming falls somewhat short of the Sambódromo.
It’s with a thick puff, underpinned by Filipe Nader’s sousaphone, that 2020 single “Oba Ina” introduces Não É Nunca Carnaval, and preludes an all-too-frequent bathos. Building, with a military gait, towards what promises to be a climactic first chorus, one feels short-changed when it never arrives – the ensemble sounds thin when it should be its most formidable. Though the piece is rescued by França’s first wheezing solo, which coruscates around the brawny sousaphone part, “Obá Iná” underwhelms.
The following “Megê” lollops along, charmingly enough. In there, there’s a great melody, but you just can’t help thinking, the setting is too heavy-set for the tune to shine through. Meanwhile, “Bragadá” is wonderfully arranged, with swelling crescendos and lyrical solos but when, during an interlude, the percussion strays behind the beat, momentum is quickly lost. Indeed, the atmosphere early on Nunca Não É Carnaval is surprisingly pedestrian and the charanga sounds inhibited – something that you don’t associated with Carnaval, nor França’s music (particularly 2018’s exhilarating Space Charanga: Suíte Intergaláctica).
“Ladeira Véia”, which begins with a melodic leap evocative of Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite, is better. In a confident stride, and at a brisk pace, the piece rumbles to a commensurate chorus, accented by dramatic general pauses, before falling away to sotto voce interludes, making for the album’s most dynamic cut. And the momentum is upheld by the thunderous “Cadê Rennan?” which, tilting toward the grime-inflected bravura of a Sons of Kemet or Steam Down track, is a resounding centre-point. The pepped-up closer “Frevo de Segunda/ A Banda Tá Com Sede” is another highlight, with rumbling snares and dramatic crescendos matching the band-leader’s yelped instructions. What really makes the piece stand out, though, is its gang-vocal outro, fit with all the raucous exaltation expected of “carnavalesque” merriment.
And therein lies the elephant in the room. The tunes on Nunca Não É Carnaval are good, sure. It’s not hard to envision them blaring out in the baking sun as effervescent masses dance and sing along. But too often, these songs, in a studio setting, lack the momentum and energy traditionally whipped up by throngs of dancing and singing Carnaval-goers. Matching the energy of this Carnaval-less February, this album tends to offer, instead of the exhilaration of sports- or street-celebrations, all the well-mannered bonhomie of a brass band at a British summer fête.
Antonio Neves – A Pegada Agora É Essa (This Sway Now) (Far Out Recordings)
Antonio Neves, anointed enfant terrible of Rio’s new guard by his label Far Out Recordings, plays charming party host on A Pegada Agora É Essa (This Sway Now). Less an intimate account of its authorial multi-instrumentalist, more an eye into Neves’ relationships with his musician mates, A Pegada is the social event of the year for Brazil’s top musicians, with its eight lively interpretations of samba-jazz, reggae, funk, soul and swing, featuring some of the country’s hottest talents: Alice Caymmi, Ana Frango Elétrico, Hamilton De Holanda, and Neves’ father, Eduardo Neves, among others.
In a light-hearted mood, Neves’ long-awaited debut on the UK label begins as it means to go on, with opener “Simba” (named after Neves’ childhood pet dog), bringing a childlike levity to moderately free instrumental jazz. Heralded by scratchy guitars, a cartoonish yelp and a slapstick “boing”, the short piece builds towards a melee of frantic horns, keys stabs and guitar thrums. While frenetic, though, the result is palatable and, beyond all else, good fun. Steered towards an uproarious climax by Leda (Neves’ grandparents’ housekeeper, enlisted to shout what sounds like the admonishments of a disgruntled old-timer, over the prickly instrumentals), the band sound like a kids’ cartoon version of Charles Mingus’s chaotic ’62 Town Hall group: with passion trumping professionalism to delightful effect.
The title track and first single keeps this formula: itchy-feet instrumentals, a pick-n-mix parade of styles and the exclaimed giddy-ups of an animated emcee (percussionist, Marcos Esguleba). The formula’s certainly exciting – the piece bursts with bright ideas, assembled adroitly and performed by veritable virtuosos. But the band has the attention span of an unruly child: each idea – the reggae turn-arounds, the false-start solos – are thrown about with a flippancy befitting far inferior music. Case in point: Eduardo Farias’ first piano solo hardly has the time to extend beyond a few vamped chord inversions before Luiz Otávio’s Fender Rhodes has to interrupt. The two talented keys players, pushed on by obstinate bass and impatient percussion, hardly have time to settle and spread their wings before their allotted section is over. Not taking the intricate arrangements and ingenious instrumentalists seriously enough, Neves’ pieces hardly care to spotlight what’s most impressive about the music. Too excitable for their own good, Neves’ compositions are abundantly imaginative and have the enthusiasm to match, but sometimes their well-sketched outlines are hurriedly filled in block colour – without the shade and nuance each structure deserves.
A commanding Alice Caymmi is ushered through her feature on her grandfather Dorival’s “Noite De Temporal” by pepped-up percussion. She manages to maintain her majesty – particularly in the free-time breakdowns – but you can’t help wishing she had more room to breathe. Ana Frango Elétrico’s feature on the following cover of Nelson Cavaquinho’s “Luz Negra”, benefits from a more leisurely pace. Like a Hareton Salvanini film-score, Ana Frango’s “oohs” and “ahs”, and the staticky archival snippets of Cavaquinho talking, give a lush, filmic atmosphere. And “Forte Apache” maintains the cinematic tone. But, once the scene is set and the mood instilled, not enough action takes place. There’s 03:17 of sweeping cinema before guest bandolinist Hamilton De Holanda’s first real solo.
“Lamento De Um Perplexo”, led by Leo Gandelman’s warm saxophone, is better: dismantling the film-set and swapping the large-format lens for something more intimate. Gandelman and Farias are given ample room to build fluid solos and, with the saxophonist’s lyrical pitch-bends being doubled by Gus Levy’s faux-epic guitar licks, the piece’s playfulness is matched by its beguiling pomp.
And the same can be said of “Summertime”, the staid Gershwin standard, which is given a psych-soul restyling. It’s a rare moment for Neves to enjoy the limelight, with a muted bass groove and blithe horn part underpinning his easy trombone. He effortlessly gambols through the head melody before taking on the lead vocals – deliberately snubbing the lyrics, and singing nonsense syllables which add to the piece’s insouciance. Its a compelling moment: a comment on the all-pervasive nature of Anglophonic culture worldwide, Neves’ mispronunciation plays on the unsuitability of the Anglo-centric canon to the average Brazilian listener who can’t even understand the song’s words. This informal rendition of “Summertime” uplifts the piece which often is a signifier for stuffy function-band dinner jazz. Instead, this version is charming, funny and decidedly persuasive.
These are all adjectives that might be attributed to Neves himself, a magnetic personality, whose music’s ebullience matches the man’s. When chatting to him a couple of weeks ago, Neves stressed his disinterest in consciously making something original, beautiful or deep. “Everybody is so serious about so many things,” he bemoaned. But, A Pegada is beautiful – and certainly original. It just might be more so were he to not shy away from occasional seriousness. But suggesting so is like complaining at a party about there being too much dancing and too little serious debate. It misses the point. And, plus, no one likes a party-pooper.
Singles & EPs
A Outra Banda Da Lua – Catapoeira (dist. Tratore)
A Outra Banda Da Lua’s Catapoeira is extremely sweet: throughout five tracks, the youthful soprano of Marina Sena lilts above shuffling pandeiro, violão and hand-claps with a breeziness unique to the most delectable of sambas. But the quintet doesn’t deign to the saccharine samba-pop such a description might suggest. There’s a satisfying tartness to the opening title-track that attests this, with Sena’s voice betraying a bite that her own solo works (most recently, “Me Toca”) just fails to flaunt. The song’s sentiment is simple: “Vem vem, sambar/ É só sambar” (“Come, come to samba/ And just samba”). But there’s a persuasiveness in the tenor of the vocals, the fierce guitar turn-arounds and the snappy percussion that carries the EP opener above and beyond the average samba-indebted MPB.
Indeed, the EP’s attention to detail assures each of the five tracks are never average. “Vento Que Bate” sounds freshly squeezed as it bounces along with charming group vocals and crisp acoustic instrumentation. Its melody, shared throughout the band’s plural vocalists, is immediately an earworm and treated accordingly with gang sing-a-longs and plenty of embellishment. Meanwhile tonal delights – such as the bowed strings and the sitar-like sheen on “Liga Essa Vitrola (Pra Zé Côco a Ana)” – dress up the otherwise understated EP in gauzy layers of enchanting psychedelia. As the nimble “Chuva pra Nós” fades into trickling water effects, closing the EP, you can’t help but feel light. The five tracks which almost clock in at five minutes a piece sound deceptively swift and sprightly – each a delectable hors d’oeuvre that simultaneously whets and satisfies the appetite.
Laure Briard – Eu Voo (Midnight Special Recordings)hann
Laure Briard has that knack on “Eu Voo” of making something that’s meticulously complex seem easy. It might be that the chorus melody is uncannily familiar, more than hinting at Gal Costa’s rendtition of “Divino Maravilhoso”. Or it might be that the featherweight vocals, hi-hat trickles and airy guitar make for a graceful texture that’s easy to wash down. Either way, Briard’s title-track, sprinkled with glockenspiel and washed-out backing vocals, has a surreptitious way of making something rather intricate, seem extraordinarily and simply seductive. For Briard, this is par for the course. Making angular baroque-pop for the retromaniac, the seasoned French chaunteuse, in collaboration with Goiânia psych-rockers Boogarins, is unshaken and lissom when turning to Brazilian psychedelia on her latest Portuguese-language EP.
The following “Morena Na Janela” – a ruminative piece built on intricate guitarwork – broadens Briard’s musical language with unpredictable turns to thoughtful autotune. And “Não Me Diz Nada”, is equally weightless with the Tolouse native’s willowy vocal redolent of Margo Guryan’s. On occasion the EP’s lightness tends towards hollowness, with “Pássaros” and “Supertrama” too full of fluff. But shape-shifting closer “Respire” somewhat returns early form with a stop-start rhythm adding ample playfulness.
Hanni Palecter – Volume 1 (Hominis Canidae)
Forecasted by their pseudonym’s tongue-in-cheek cacography, Recife’s Hanni Palecter makes music that is equally funny and ferocious. Cannibalistic in their experimental approach, the unidentified producer makes “lo-fi beats” that are more indebted to grindcore than soulless study-music. With deviations through dub, funk and rap-metal, Volume 1’s seven tracks simultaneously evade classification and coalesce to form a cohesive and recognisable aesthetic. The first track “Frai” sets out many of the EP’s aesthetic characteristics: curiously acoustic instrumentation (buzzsaw guitars and live-sounding drums), as well as overlayed midi-horns and, foremostly, indecipherably mumbled vocals.
The vocals, all tracked in a single take, does away with language altogether as Palecter barks and whoops his way from one seemingly nonsense syllable to the next, “exposing longings that are so human and yet [not] understood by ourselves”. Even without traditional lyrics, though, the abrasive, belligerent tone more than communicates the artist’s sentiments. Evocative of Ata Kak’s fitful flow, on “Alala”, Palecter’s jerky scat-rap thrusts above slack low-toms and itchy drums triggers. Meanwhile on the following reggae-inflected “Renguinau”, with bassy synth pads, their delivery co-opts the swagger of a dub emcee, but with excessive growl. Highlights come in the shape of sinewy dub cut “Olaboa”, with resonant horns cutting above the fray, and the erratic jumped-up funk of “Peipeipei”. But, almost irrespective of the instrumental, it’s the enigmatic producer’s vocals, which stretch from Negro Leo whooping to Tantão E Os Fita growls, that make this music so thrilling.
RUBI, NIFF – O Tombo (Linha da Beira)
RUBI and NIFF’s brand of Brazilian street soul toes the line between vintage and innovative, making O TOMBO an instantly familiar yet pleasantly fresh collection. Front and centre is Rubi Assumpção’s springing vocals that caper from speak-singing to swinging rap with a conversational ease – the jewel in the crown for this spry and simple EP. And, behind, Assumpção and Nicolas Camargo Denuzzo spin webs of à la mode instrumentals that hinge on retro synths and equally classic melody lines (for example, the blues lick on “Carne Branca”). Of the five tracks, single “Planeta V.I.P.” remains heads and shoulders above the rest – a neo-soul bounce reviewed in the previous Brazilian Wax roundup. But camped-up closer, incongruously titled “Timbaland”, comes closest with reverb-heavy beats slipping into a woozy yet buoyant boogie, with the lyrics: “I just came to dance/ I like to dance/ I know how to dance” whirling atop peppery percussion.
Ipásia – Paura (PWR Records)
Debut single for Sergipe band Ipásia doesn’t lack theatre, but, it’s a lugubrious piece that is obdurate to get going. For its first three minutes, broken-chords swell in among atmospheric whooshing. Whispered double-tracked vocals which intrigue and draw the listener close, pull the piece forward, navigating unrequited love, death and loneliness with ample melodrama: “morrer em segredo/ só pra si/ pra ninguém que ame” (“to die in secret/ for you alone/ for no one to love”). Though a sombre affair until the mid-point, suddenly, with swirling drums quickening the pace, the piece enters a new gear with squealing fuzz-laden guitar and toy-piano clinking.
Economic Freedom Fighters – Força Forte (Transfusão Noise Records)
Sharing their name with a South African far-left pan-Africanist political party, the Rio alt-rockers’ ironic bon mot uncovers their proclivity for the sort of lofty and obscure humour that’s so inseparable from Stephen Malkmus’ music. And on “Força Forte”, its Malkmus’ band Pavement that Economic Freedom Fighters most resemble. With the vocals sat low in the register, swathed in buzzsaw guitars (think “Summer Babe”), the Rio trio’s latest single is a blustery anthem showcasing both plenty squall and, with weird detours in acoustic percussion, eccentricity.
Projeto Shaun – Voltando Do Trabalho (Selo180)
Fit with mutton chops Liam Gallagher would be proud of, João Carneiro is the incongruous front man of Projeto Shaun: the musical progeny of Madchester and Nação Zumbi’s nineties Recife. The five-piece from Porto Alegre lack little of Our Kid’s swagger on their third single “Voltando Do Trabalho” which tackles the always-relatable languor of desk-jobs. They see their biggest influence in The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and, also, The Clash – both for their astute working-man politics and adoption of Black music (rap, reggae, funk) within a punk vocabulary. But it’s Rio’s Marcelo D2 who the band most channel on this slice of psyched-out rap-rock: chiefly, “Qual É?” which, sampling Antonio Carlos & Jocafi’s 1971 stomper “Kabaluerê”, is the clear prototype to this raucous single.
“Voltando Do Trabalho” by Projeto Shaun is Out on March 4th via Selo180.
Aminoácido – Carinho Safedeza (Self-Released)
The squirming bass that whips “Carinho Safadeza” into shape has sufficient zest to supercharge the Londrina quintet’s latest single alone. Shooting an electric current through Aminoácido’s newest slice of bombastic boogie music, the first fifteen seconds of solo bass are unmatched for the remainder of the song. But that’s not to say that there’s not plenty vim here to keep the toe tapping and finger wagging. The angular rhythmic turnarounds, “ooh la la la” vocals and overdrive guitar licks all keep this dynamic piece on its toes for the duration.
Jadsa, Ana Frango Elétrico, Kiko Dinucci – Raio De Sol (Balaclava Records)
On “Raio De Sol”, Jadsa enlists two of contemporary Brazil’s most beloved talents, and their stamp on her latest single is indisputable. It’s Ana Frango Elétrico’s inimitable soprano that, like a siren’s call, lures the listener into a shadowy sound-world. The slow piece, that puffs its chest out gradually over three and a half minutes benefits, too, from Kiko Dinucci’s spectral guitarwork. Spinning delicate webs around Jadsa’s hushed vocals, “Raio De Sol” ripples outwards, occasionally overflowing into overdriven power-chords and drum rumblings but always retreating under the cover of darkness.
Electronic & Club Music
Numa Gama – Memorias De Oneyda (dist. Tratore)
Numa Gama’s Memorias De Oneyda is as much album as archive. Produced during a residency at the São Paulo Cultural Centre, celebrating the 85th birthday of one of Latin America’s largest cultural archives – the public record library Discoteca Oneyda Alvarenga –Numa Gama’s latest full-length is a sound-collage, assembled and arranged out of its raw material. Excepting a few field recordings and pre-produced instrumentals, Memorias’ percussive, melodic and harmonic details are extracted solely from this vast collection: most of its vocal layers, for example, derive from 1938 recordings taken on Northern and North eastern research missions. And so, it is from such a starting point, then, that we must approach this cultural artefact – an album for which each occasion of sampling is simultaneously an act of historical restoration.
Musically, each piece adjoins through aesthetic similarities: downtempo backbeats, analogue instrumentation and a dusty finish – as if each track was a priceless artefact unearthed by way of archeological excavation. The whirr of a rewinding tape-deck introduces “Mestre Jandaraí”, the first proper archival music on Memorias De Oneyda. Carried by a spacious and organic beat, a simple call-and-response pattern between a male lead and a chorus of children sways towards a mesmerising pifano loop. Refraining from excessive overdubbing or layering, Numa Gama’s power, here, is in her ability to give momentum to these pieces without encroaching upon them. Evinced by “Mestre Jandaraí”, the thirteen pieces that make up Memorias are given ample room to breathe. The gorgeous female-led chant with slack backbeat and scratchy snare on “Carregadores de Piano e Caboclinhos” corroborates this further. Each instrument and voice sounds commanding and in place – nothing is obviously doctored or updated; there’s no hackneyed loop, nor incongruous sample wedged atop an overbearing beat. Merely, Numa Gama touches-up and re-frames original recordings that more than merit exhibition.
“Colcheia” keeps up the form with juddering overdubs staying tasteful. And, when understated electronic additions bubble to the fore, it never overpowers the warm baritone which sits at the spine of the piece. In fact, any harmonic or rhythmic flourishes simply build a stage, lifting the original recording higher. And on the more overtly electronic compositions, the historical recordings still stay front and centre. “Desvairada”, immediately evocative of Quixosis’ 2021 “Luz Y Fer”, is imbued with an electro-swing colour. Sepia and sweet, its bright horns and honky-tonk piano makes for a joyous highlight. Meanwhile, “Tempo Virando/ Canto Yawalapiti” beguiles with squeaking bird noises that ricochet into a high pedal above a thick bass, bringing an ethereal shimmer characteristic of Numa Gama’s VOODOOHOP collective. Notably, though, on both high-points, it is the original material that remains emphatically and unequivocally the main attraction. Particularly on the latter, which contains a stirring recording of the indigenous Yawalapiti people who, in 2020, lost a great leader to Covid-19.
What Numa Gama offers here are snapshots, re-coloured and -structured for entry into Brazil’s musical canon. If you’re looking for intricately built, dynamic electronic compositions, this isn’t the project for you: the thing with photographs is that they’re static. And these pieces are principally image-songs, telling a history through tone and timbre rather than through movement. But each carefully constructed snapshot holds raw material that enchants in a fashion that’s both unique and totally vital.
Irû.Wav – Flecha (Tropical Twista Records)
Salvadorian multi-instrumentalist, and VOODOOHOP and Pássaro Encantado member Irû.Wav promises to play tour guide on Flecha – her debut album and the “magical” world therein. A project that “touches the multidimensional essence of being”, the Bahian’s delicate soundscapes take influence in humanity’s “ludic” traits – id est, those driven by undirected play. And it is this directionless that serves as Flecha’s most appealing and aggravating quality – it both allows for multidimensional exploration and prevents such exploration sometimes from reaching satisfying depths.
To the patient ear, there’s a lot to enjoy: the harmonic sheen that sparkles above the bass pedal on the titular opener is stimulating not shrill, the metallic percussion is crisp and the xylophone melodies, that build and merge towards subtle chord progressions, are round and plummy. Its follow-up, “Infância Na Aldeia”, blooming forth from field recordings of children playing, has a more confident stride and makes up for fewer textural intricacies with a commanding kick drum that wills the piece forward. Later, the psychedelic “Sky Submarine” marries texture and tempo in the album’s most convincing cut.
But the same can’t be said for “Tekoporã” – a flute-led piece which fails to sustain interest, never really spreading its wings, nor deep-diving into intricate layers. Likewise, “Morning Quigong Practice” would be better served absconding from the pedestrian percussion and exploring its synth layers further. And that’s the root of Irû.Wav’s downfall; many of these pieces are neither one thing nor the other. Not totally content to explore the depths of free-time textural music, but equally loath to lump a persuasive beat behind each idea, much of Flecha treads water. Ultimately, this is a perfectly inoffensive collection of electronic tapestries. Lush sometimes and sparing often, it makes a quietly comforting impression. But without further direction or drive, Flecha ends up better serving as background music than texturally striking, pulse-racing soundscapes. Better to swing and miss, than not swing at all.
J G B – Ossos Do Ofício
With a totally unique command of rhythm, J G B’s “BAC” clatters into existence – marking the start of a second consecutive masterpiece released by the Rio label, Domina. Stumbling and shuffling but never losing its footing, the rhythm on the opener to Ossos Do Ofício is like the sonic equivalent of tripping up and then running a couple of steps to regain balance. Every shattering pulsation here catches the last just before the metre collapses, giving the impression that track is speeding up while it, actually, remains resolute.
The Niterói producer’s scratchy shuffle, that jerks and blunders on each of the EP’s six tracks, is thrillingly incessant. On “O Futuro Da Pasada”, a more steady pulse finds its feet but sheets of harmonic feedback slice through at intervals, heralding further squeaky polyrhythms towards the cut’s close. Meanwhile the over-compressed clattering reaches ADHD levels on “Zov” which, draped in gorgeous Eastern vocal-sampling, wriggles with itchy-feet triggers.
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