Review Marcos Valle – Estática
The main thought running through my head as I listened to Estática, the new album by Marcos Valle, was why had he never recorded this before. It’s as if he’s taken all the best bits from his previous albums, the daring of Garra, the pure pop of Samba ’68, the funk of Previsao of Tempo and given it wings through the orchestral arrangements that give it a depth and vibrance that I’ve never heard before from his work. It has been dubbed a “Brazilian masterpiece” and while that is understandable due to its grandiosity and intentions, it does stop a little short of such hyperbole – not by much though.
This is his fourth album for Far Out Recordings (excluding the 2008 The Best of compilation), with whom he has recorded since the early 90s, and who are largely responsible for his comeback, and it is the first one where he feels truly comfortably. Which shouldn’t be read as any criticism of the other albums, it’s just a feeling that with those he did try and push the acid-jazz (massively popular in the 90s) and electronic and drum ‘n’ bass elements as it was a way back into the industry, to reconnect with the youth. This album feels more personal because it doesn’t identify with a particular movement; there are experiments here that could be deemed cheesy or genius depending on your perspective. The beautiful thing is that he has pushed himself and with that creative drive has come an abundance of killer melodies.
“Vamos Sambar” is the perfect track to open the album, a lush, wide-screen plea for us all to ‘samba.’ It showcases the ambition of the album with its intricate string and horn arrangements as well as a classic Valle pop melody, the first of many on the first half of the album. “Prefixo” slows it down slightly with a Serge Gainsbourg vocal piece before Joyce joins in for “Papo de Maluco” (an insistent “Crickets Sing for Anamaria” melody) and “Baiao Maracatú”, one of the highlights of the album. It’s this latter song which shows Valle perfecting the jazz-inflected pop song. It’s almost a deadringer for Steely Dan, partly down to the similarities with Donald Fagen’s voice.
Whether intentional or not there is a strong 70s vibe to this album. At times some of the guitar work resembles the Isley Brothers (circa “That Lady”) and the synthesisers either Sly and the Family Stone (as on “Novo Acorde (Reprise)”) or Stevie Wonder. It’d be interesting to know whether Valle was at all infuenced by the recent re-assessment of Arthur Verocai, who’s sole self-titled 70s record has recently been elevated to masterpiece status in the US, and with whom Valle definitely shares some similarity on the album.
The second half of the album is heavier with shorter, instrumental tracks that generally display more of a willingness to experiment and offer a pyschedelic vibe. It also contains the title track Estática, the centrepiece of the album. A rattling, jazz odyssey so dense it feels like a manifesto yet with this Weather Report-ish, disco sheen that lifts it up, scrapping around for air. I feel like I want to come up with some kind of plant metaphor, reaching for the light, etc., but I’m gonna stop myself, we don’t need to be that corny.
It’s a shame that this latter half of the album contains some of the weaker melodies; “Esphera” and “Eu Vou” are perfectly serviceable songs but lack the spark of some of the earlier efforts. The album even finishes on an instrumental versions of “Vamos Sambar” which I believe is better that the vocal version. Valle does not possess the strongest of voices and it does not suit every song perfectly, as is the case on this one. It’s these two criticisms that stop this album from being a masterpiece in my eyes, although they don’t stop it from being one of the most listenable collection of original samba-derived songs in quite some time.
There was one more thing missing too though and I wasn’t to find that out until England’s erratic weather decided to give us one last flash of summer in the last week of August. Sat outside on a sun lounger, with this music pumping in my ears it all suddenly made sense. I felt I was on Copacabana beach or at the MTV Summer Jam (if those things still exist). In short, it suddenly took on a new level I wasn’t even aware existed. It’s just a shame it’s being released the wrong side of the summer otherwise this would have been one of the staple albums over the summer months.
Artist: Marcos Valle
Label: Far Out Recordings
Release: 4th Oct 2010 (UK)
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