Candeia – Luz da Inspiração and Axé (1976-78)

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CANDEIA
Dose Dupla (2 on 1)
Luz da Inspiração (1976) and
Axé! Gente Amiga do Samba (1978)

LUZ DA INSPIRAÇÃO
1977 Atlantic/WEA

1 Riquezas do Brasil (Brasil poderoso)
(Waldir 59, Candeia)   
2 Maria Madalena da Portela
(Aniceto)   
3 Olha o samba sinhá (Samba de roda)
(Candeia)   
4 Vem menina moça
(Candeia)   
5 Nova escola
(Candeia)   
6 Já curei minha dor
(Padeirinho)   
7 Luz da inspiração
(Candeia)   
8 Me alucina
(Candeia, Wilson Moreira)   
9 Falso poder (Ser ou não ser)
(Candeia)   
10 Era quase madrugada
(Casquinha, Candeia)   
11 Cabocla Jurema
(Candeia)   
12 Pelo nosso amor
(Cartola)   

AXÉ! GENTE AMIGA DO SAMBA
Candeia   
1978 Atlantic/WEA

1 Pintura sem arte
(Candeia)   
2 Ouro desça do seu trono
(Paulo da Portela)   
Mil reis (Candeia-Noca)

3 Vivo isolado do mundo
(Alcides Malandro Histórico)   
Amor não é brinquedo (Candeia-Martinho da Vila)

4 Zé Tambozeiro [Tambor de Angola]
(Vandinho, Candeia)   
5 Dia de graça
(Candeia)   
6 Gamação
(Candeia)   
Peixeiro granfino (Bretas-Candeia)
Ouço uma voz (Nelson Amorim)
Vem amenizar (Candeia-Waldir 59)

OMITTED FROM CD VERSION – 7 O invocado
(Casquinha)   
Beberrão (Aniceto do Império-Mulequinho)

______________________________________________________________

Dia de Graça
Hoje é manhã de carnaval (ao esplendor)
As escolas vão desfilar (garbosamente)
Aquela gente de cor com a imponência de um rei, vai pisar na passarela (salve a Portela)
Vamos esquecer os desenganos (que passamos)
Viver alegria que sonhamos (durante o ano)
Damos o nosso coração, alegria e amor a todos sem distinção de cor
Mas depois da ilusão, coitado
Negro volta ao humilde barracão
Negro acorda é hora de acordar
Não negue a raça
Torne toda manhã dia de graça
Negro não se humilhe nem humilhe a ninguém
Todas as raças já foram escravas também
E deixa de ser rei só na folia e faça da sua Maria uma rainha todos os dias
E cante o samba na universidade
E verás que seu filho será príncipe de verdade
Aí então jamais tu voltarás ao barracão

It’s the 13th of May, a holiday in Brazil commemorating the abolition of slavery in 1888, when Princess Isabel found it in her benevolent, saintly heart to “free the slaves.”  Commemorations only work well when you exclude the inconvenient, which in this case would involve decades of debt peonage, landlessness, discrimination, and systemic racism shielded by a self-serving myth of so-called ‘racial democracy’ (“Brazil does not have a race problem, it has a class problem…”).  It is inconvenient for commemorations to pay attention to the harassment of people of color simply for being in the “wrong place” (like a shopping mall), to the militarization of the slums to make sure that people “know their place,” or if that still doesn’t work, vigilante citizens chasing and beating a teenage petty thief, stripping him naked and then chaining him to a lamppost with a bike lock.  Inconvenient that all of these last items have happened in the 21st century, in spite of provisions in Brazil’s 1988 constitution that make racism and racial discrimination a crime punishable by prison time, but which is of course never enforced.  It’s also probably best not to think about the voluminous documentation of forced slave labor and human rights abuses in the remote interior of the country (mind you, as an occasionally pedantic American historian insisted to me once, this is “not the same as the chattel slavery” of the transatlantic slave trade.. She’s right, but she was also kind of missing the point). 

So with all that in mind, a blog post of music by Candeia might be better suited for the holiday commemorating the death of Zumbi of Palmares rather than this patriotic flag-waving, parade-holding one.   After all Candeia did found his own samba organization called Grêmio Recreativo de Arte Negra e Samba Quilombo.  The song “Dia de Graça” is a gorgeous little composition, whose lyrics (cited above) trace a hopeful, somewhat utopian vision that messes with the classic “inversion” theme of carnival that is a beloved subject of erudite analysis from Bakhtin to Roberto DaMatta to that annoying book by Alma Guillermoprieto.  That well-trodden debate tended to be framed as:  Is the upside-down, burlesque and irreverent world of carnival – where the poor and dispossessed could dress and act like aristocrats or royalty –  a kind of social critique made by those whose voices were historically silenced, or was it a kind of ‘steam valve’ to release the bottled-up tensions of a hierarchical society to prevent them from erupting into genuine chaos and disorder.   Candeia’s poem, however, is from the point of view of the people who participate in the courtly procession of the samba school, which has roots stretching back to the black brotherhoods of Our Lady of the Rosary and the coronation ceremonies of the Congo Kings of the colonial period.  My ‘free’ translation with no attempt to maintain meter or rhyme, hence laid out as a paragraph here:


It’s carnival morning in all its splendor, the samba schools are going to parade in their elegance; these people of color with the majesty of kings are going to stride along the concourse (hail Portela!). Forget our troubles and suffering that we’ve lived through, live the happiness that we dream of all year long, give our hearts, happiness, and love to everyone with no regard for their color.  But when the illusion is over, poor thing, the black man returns to his humble shack.  Black man wake up, it’s time to wake up.  Don’t deny your race.  Make every morning your day of grace and freedom.  Black man don’t be humiliated and don’t humiliate anyone else, all of the races were also once slaves.  Stop being a king only in the pageant and make your Maria a queen for all days.  Sing samba in the universities, and see that your son can be a true prince in real life, and then you will never again have to return to that humble shack.

Samba has no shortage of bittersweet  songs about carnival, but I can’t think of too many that also sneak in jarringly direct negations of the supposed inferiority of black people with a line like “todas as raças já foram escravas também.”  It’s a we-shall-overcome expression of racial uplift clothed in the silk and velvet of Louis the XV.

——————————–

“Dia de Graça” is from Candeia’s greatest album, “Axé – gente amiga de samba”  recorded shortly before he died.  He was a samba purist in the era of the commercialized spectacle that would culminate in the building of the Sambadrome, disillusioned with the direction of the samba schools were taking.  His father was a flautist who played choro and was part of Portela’s first comisão da frente. In his own words, Candeia was something of an intermediary between the generations, bridging the two Paulos – the original Paulo de Portela, and the great Paulinho da Viola.  You can see both Candeia and Paulinho (although not at the same time) in this amazing short film by Leon Hirszman called Partido Alto

The first half of this film centers around Candeia holding court from his throne of a wheelchair, giving a didactic demonstration of the partido alto style, its base in improvisation and similarity to Northeastern repente or embolada, different ways to sing it and dance it.  Check out the posters from Senegal on the walls behind them, which are very possibly from the first Festival of Black Arts held in Dakar in 1966 which had a big Brazilian contingent.  The second half, “In the house of Manacéia” captures as well as any film can the informal cauldron of creativity at a Sunday lunch of feijoada and samba with the old guard, seemingly extending quite long into the evening.  Paulinho, in the only narration in the film placed at the very end, talks about how from a very young age he saw partido alto as a type of communion, a participatory rite in which everyone could enter in their own way of improvising.  He remarks how “today” (i.e. the latter half of the 70s), samba had so many external obligations, emphasizing the “spectacle” at the expense of the sambistaReturning to the partido alto was a way to stay grounded in samba’s authentic roots.  The concept of “authenticity” is one that has preoccupied me on this blog and in other writing that I don’t put here.  Typically, along with my fellow travelers, I am preoccupied with the way elites have created and sustained the notion of an “authentic” form of culture, excluding much in the process, at the service of one or another ideology (both conservative and revolutionary).   What I’ve been interested in lately is the different ways that the idea of “authenticity” is used by participants themselves of a given form of cultural expression as a way to safeguard against the cooptation of outsiders.  Of course this gets hopelessly complicated when we have to consider state interventions that designate “patrimony,” and partido alto received that official recognition by IPHAN in 2007.  Journalist Lena Frias points out on the back cover of “Axé” that Candeia launched his Samba Quilombo foundation without any reference to the “whitening” of the art form that was a polemic at the time, and cites lyrics to show that he wasn’t interested in excluding anyone from the world of samba based on skin color.  A valid observation, but it doesn’t contradict in any way that Candeia felt pretty strongly about defending the black, Afro-Brazilian roots of the art form.

 When I first did some blog posts of Candeia records I was mildly chastised by a French blogger friend for not having written more at length about the greatness and importance of this important artist.  Naturally this discouraged me from posting anything else about Candeia for the better part of two years – What is it with these French dudes and their impressive 5000-word posts about samba, ain’t nobody got time for that!

Anyway, it is a non-trivial travesty that the Brazilian recording industry (and/or its multinational overlords) let this album stay out of print for decades.  Too add insult to injury, when Warner finally did reissue this album, as part of a double disc set including both of his Atlantic records, they left off the final track for no reason that I can discern.  Possibly an issue over publishing rights, but it could also just as likely be pure negligence or sloppiness on their part.  This was sort of a budget release (R$30 when it came out, now going for  R$20), but doesn’t even bother with even a blurb of text from Tarik de Souza, let alone actual liner notes.  I hate to praise EMI for anything but their budget series of 2-em-1 CDs from the early 00’s did much better in this regard.  It also fails to note the participation of other great sambistas like Dona Ivone Lara, Manaceá, Clementina de Jesus, and Aniceto de Império who all sing on different tracks.  Seriously, none of these people get mentioned anywhere on the CD.   I will say one good thing about this reissue – the remastering is quite nice and a huge improvement over the garbage reissues that the label Discobertas put out.

Which reminds me that I’ve yet to offer a single word about the other album in this set, Luz da Inspiração from 1976.  It is a fine album in its own right,  overshadowed by Axé but a very different record in a lot of ways.  Opening with the samba enredo of “Riquezas do Brasil”, it also has some first-rate offerings in the partido alto style – “Maria Madalena de Portela,” “Olha o samba, sinhá,” and “Vem menina moça.”  There are slower tunes too, almost samba-canção, like “Me alucina” and the title song whose arrangements have flavors of the Golden Age of samba (and, incidentally, a lyric about slaves transformed into kings).  The tune “Nova Escola” seems like it had his new foundation Quilombo in mind.  A few tunes have a more ‘samba de asfalto’ style like the work of Paulinho da Viola or João Nogueira, and then there’s the spare spiritism of “Caboclo Jurema.”

“Luz de Inspiração” is a more stylistically diverse album than “Axé” but also less cohesive as an artistic statement.  “Axé” really shows Candeia firing on all cylinders, with writing partners spanning his entire lifetime as a sambista, from Paulo de Portela to Martinho da Vila.  In fact the album deserves a post all to itself, but I will either leave that to the French, or perhaps I will make another one using a vinyl needledrop since it has ALL THE SONGS ON IT for fuch’s sake…

This blog post doesn’t really come around full circle to 13 de Maio or anything like that.  It’s a day for parades and for getting drunk.  Freedom is never “granted” by princesses or politicians.  Everyone knows that.

The Awakening – Hear, Sense, and Feel (1972) [Black Jazz BJ9]

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The Awakening
Hear, Sense and Feel
1972 Black Jazz Records BJ9

1     Awakening – Prologue / Spring Thing     9:36
2     When Will It Ever End    7:16
3     Convulsions     6:37
4     Kera’s Dance     10:05
5    Jupiter     7:33
6     Brand New Feeling    5:50
7    Awakening – Epilogue     1:08


Bass – Reggie Willis
Drums – Arlington Davis, Jr.
Flugelhorn, Trumpet – Frank Gordon
Piano, Electric Piano – Ken Chaney
Tenor Saxophone, Flute – Ari Brown
Trombone – Steve Galloway
Electric bass on “Brand New Feeling” – Richard Evans

Produced by – Gene Russell
Recorded at Streeterville Studio, Chicago

———————————–

A lovely, dare I say a gorgeous record from jazz ensemble The Awakening, all of whose members seemed to have connections of the AACM collective founded by Muhal Richard Abrams in Chicago.   While Frank Gordon and Ken Chaney were co-credited as bandleaders, the record has the kind of musical egalitarianism you might expect.  Recording for the short-lived Black Jazz label, they were only around for about four years and put out two excellent albums of mostly mellow, modal, moody jazz in the more soulful corner of the Afrocentric “spiritual” jazz idiom.  In spite of having a track titled “Convulsions”, everything on the record is melodic, with the occasional free riffing or over-blowing coasting on top of solid grooves.  The record opens up with a invocation-type poem that leads into “Spring Thing,” which eases us into the album.  If I have any criticism of the record it might be that, while this first track features obligatory solos from everyone as a way of introducing their voices, it somehow ends up not particularly representing the musical identity of the group.  But that is okay, because 1972 was a time when people seemed to have more time to sit and listen to music and didn’t have to be `hooked` in the first few minutes to stay interested. Patience, my friend.  “When Will It End” has a circular-time thing going apropos of the title, with the bass playing a five-note ascending riff that barely changes over the course of seven minutes.  Chaney switches to electric piano for this one with delicious results.  Speaking of piano, for whatever reason, random association or coincidence, the two compositions by (trumpeter) Frank Gordon remind me a lot of McCoy Tyner

With the exception of special guest Richard Evans, who plays the only electric bass on the record on the funky closer “Brand New Feeling,”  the two members with the broadest pedigree outside the AACM seem to be Steve Galloway and Ken Chaney.  Galloway played with Count Basie in addition to credits on the cult-classic “Funky Skull” album by Melvin Jackson and a respectable number of soul sessions (Jerry Butler, The Dells, The Staples), and Ken Chaney, who among his other accomplishments played on the massive hit “Soulful Strut” by Young-Holt Unlimited.

“Hear, Sense, and Feel” is an immediately accessible, uplifting jazz record.  Their next album, “Mirage,” was a bit funkier and a little bit more “out” as well.

A long time ago I promised to share a whole bunch of stuff from the Black Jazz discography.  Well as the saying goes, promises were meant to be broken.  Anyway this should help ease the pain until I dip back into their catalog again here.

Nara Leão – “Descontrolada” (1976) unreleased single!

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Well this is a new thing for the blog, the first time I have ever hosted a “leaked” track unavailable elsewhere, and hopefully it won’t get us shut down after managing to survive this many years.
The track below was deemed unsuitable for release on the rarities discs included with the recent 2103 Nara Leão boxset, and was passed along to me by an audio engineer in friend in São Paulo who made me swear never to share it with anyone except at home through a stereo.  Well that guy turned out to be a royal prick so I am disregarding the promise now.

In the mid-1970s, Nara had gone into semi-retirement in order to raise her children and eventually pursue a degree in psychology.  I suppose the urge to perform in someone as creatively powerful as Nara doesn’t just go dormant, and the retirement didn’t last all that long by today’s standards. These days it is normal for pop stars to release one record every three years, because they are mostly overpaid lazy fucks,   but it must have seemed an eternity to her fans back in the day.   She returned to recording with a deliberately nostalgic work looking back to the golden age of Brazilian song, hence the title, Meu Primeiro Amor (“My First Love”).  It is a great record but probably came across a bit anachronistic in  light of the whirlwind of changes – social, musical, political – that had swept across Brazil in the decade leading up to it: changes which, of course, Nara played pivotal and multiple roles as a cultural and musical icon.  Given how the newly-uncovered track featured here lay buried for almost forty years with no indication that it ever existed, it is difficult to say if this recording session was simply an attempt by Nara to musically invent herself, to experiment with new sounds, or maybe to make a little cash with a more contemporary-sounding single.  Whatever the case, she apparently did not care for the resulting recording and disowned it.

For the session, she chose João Donato to work out the arrangements and take on production duties  (he would later end up producing her next album, Os Meus Amigos São Um Barato ).   The complete personnel on this track is unknown, but what little was written on the insert inside the tape reel documents that the session involved Hyldon and Cassiano on guitar, both seminal figures in the Brazilian soul scene of the mid-70s, and the melody sounds like one or both of them may have a writing credit here.  And though I can’t prove it, I swear I can hear their friend Tim Maia on backing vocals.  Normally his voice overtakes everyone else on every session he was ever on, however, so maybe they just kept him really far from the microphone or made him sing in the hallway.  The tune starts out with a throwback nod to her bossa-cum-capoeira heyday, but the intro is just an illusion that does not prepare the listener for what comes next: some of the most funky pieces of music to be made in Brazil in the mid-70s, music that is so forward-thinking it wouldn’t sound out of place on the radio decades later.   All that being said, as incredible as it is to have an unissued track from Nara Leão with these unlikely collaborators, I can understand why she chose not to release it.  Her voice just isn’t particularly suited to funk and soul music, and although she did have a reputation for iconoclasm in the 60s, perhaps in the mid 70s she opted not to jeopardize her good standing as a canonical MPB singer by attempting a polemical style like funky samba soul, especially with such sexual overtones.  She even chose to sing, rather awkwardly, in English, which would have further enraged much of her devoted following.

So here is the track, titled “Descontrolada”, and if it doesn’t get this blog shut down for good, I hope to see you all soon in another post.  If the gods have mercy, I promise to post more often than I have been lately.

Tim Maia – Tim Maia (1977) (repost)

tim maia

Because a neo-colonial gringo record label released a compilation of Tim’s material a while ago, heavily promoted by hipster-indie icons to sell CDs and overpriced vinyl to the trendy gentrifiars of American urban spaces, all of my Tim Maia blog posts got shut down on the same day.  I am reposting them for historical, archival purposes complete with my inane writings of the time they were originally posted.  Make sure to read all the appreciate comments and you will thank me later.

1 Pense menos

(Paulo Ricardo – Tim Maia)

2 Sem você

(Paulo Ricardo – Tim Maia)

3 Verão carioca

(Paulo Roquete – Reginaldo Francisco – Paulo Ricardo – Tim Maia)

4 Feito para dançar

(Paulo Ricardo)

5 É necessário

(Tim Maia)

6 Leva o meu blue

(Tim Maia)

7 Venha dormir em casa

(Tim Maia)

8 Música para Betinha

(Carlos Simões – Reginaldo Francisco – Paulo Ricardo – Tim Maia)

9 Não esquente a cabeça

(Carlos Simões – Tim Maia)

10 Ride twist and roll

(Tim Maia)

11 Flores belas (Instrumental)

(Tim Maia)

12 Let it all hang out

(Tim Maia)

Tim Maia – Vocal, drums, congas, acoustic guitar, percussion
Paulo Ricardo R. Alves – 6 and 12-string guitars, vocals,
Reginaldo Francisco – Acoustic and electric piano, organ, arp, vocal
Paulo Roberto R. Nazareth – guitar & vocal
Carlos Simões – bass
Geraldo – trumpet
Darci Seixas – trombone
Sebastião – alto saxophone
José Mauricio – guitar, vocal
César Fernando – congas, vocal
Paulo do Couto – cowbell
Guto Graça Mello – string arrangements

Production, horn and vocal arrangements – Tim Maia

Released on Som Livre 1977, reissue

According to Nelson Motta’s biography of Tim Maia, “Vale Tudo,” this record had a working title of “Verão Carioca” and marks the period where Tim began imbibing large quantities of coke. Whatever, Motta’s book is in fact poorly written, lacking any kind of sources, or even a comprehensive discography (or a partial one, for that matter). What is for certain is that this is the record where disco begins to be felt in his music in a positive way. Rug burners like “Feito Pra Dançar” nestle alongside heavy funk like “E Necessario.” Another highlight is “Não Esquente a Cabeça” which has memorable hooks and melodies, and tasty electric piano and guitar work over a smokey post-bossa pan-latin groove. It’s probably the catchiest song on here. This is prime material by polymath Tim Maia — producer, multi-instumentalist, and arranger on this record.

Motta does relate an anecdote about the rehearsals for the album, when there was construction going on right next door and all the songs ended up being arranged to the tempo of a jack-hammer. There is a reference to this on the ‘thank you’ section of the original album’s back cover.

 

Ataulfo Alves – Vida de Minha Vida, Vol. 1 (1933 -1956)

VIDA DE MINHA VIDA – ATAULFO ALVES VOL. 1
Ataulfo Alves 1993 Revivendo (RVCD 086)

1 Sexta-feira (Almirante, 1933)
2 Saudades do meu barracão  (Floriano Belham, 1935)
3 O coração não envelhece  (Ataulfo Alves e Seu Estado Maior, 1950)
4 Teus olhos  (Aurora Miranda, 1939)

5 Mulher, toma juízo (Gilberto Alves, 1938)
6 Canção do nosso amor  (Déo. 1939)
7 Não irei lhe buscar (Ataulfo Alves e Suas Pastoras, 1944)
8 Fale mal, mas fale de mim  (Aracy de Almeida. 1939)
9 Até breve  (Sylvio Caldas, 1937)
10 Vida de minha vida  (Ataulfo Alves, 1949)
11 Mensageiro da saudade  (Elisete Cardoso, 1950)
12 Eu não sabia  (Anjos do Inferno, 1943)
13 Rainha da beleza  (Orlando Silva, 1937))
14 Mártir no amor  (Ataulfo Alves e Suas Pastores, 1945)
15 Mulher do Seu Oscar  (Odete Amaral, 1940)
16 Mil corações  (Nuno Roland, 1938)
17 Quanta tristeza! (Carlos Galhado, 1937)
18 Quem me deve me paga  (Ataulfo e Suas Pastores, 1956)
19 Errei sim (Dalva de Oliveira, 1950)
20 Pelo amor que eu tenho a ela  (Francisco Alves, 1936)
21 Pai Joaquim d’Angola  (Ataulfo Alves e Suas Pastoras, 1955)

Produced by Leon Barg
Engineering – Ayrton Pisco

Recordings originally made for the following labels: Odeon, RCA Victor, Columbia, Star, and Sínter


Ataulfo Alves was a badass.  He was one of a rare handfull of samba
composers of his generation who also had a successful career as a
recording artist at the same time, and was amazing in both roles.  He had striking good looks and stage charisma, a marvelous singing voice, and his arrangements of his own tunes are some of the funkiest things you’ll hear from the golden age of samba.  These
two volumes from Revivendo (a label that is to older “Velha Guarda”
music what Chronological or Yazoo are to U.S. music) do a fantastic job
of presenting some of his own recordings alongside hits by huge icons of
the day like Francisco Alves, Silvio Caldas, Aracy de Almeida,
Almirante, Orlando Silva and others.  They all bring tremendous vivacity to his work.  Both Carmen Miranda AND her sister
Aurora are represented.  Another rarity of note is one side of Elizete
Cardoso’s very first 78 rpm recording.  Apparently the release was
recalled “for technical reasons” (no idea what that means), and no
indication is given of what was used for this CD – in spite of the date
being 1950, the sound is much worse than the tracks dating from the 30s.
Anyway it is cool to have it.

I love the Revivendo label.  The
sound is typically very good, avoiding the pitfalls of trying to
“polish” these old gems with heavy-handed noise reduction and so on.
I wish they would hire a decent graphic designer, though.

Ataulfo deserves a long blog post celebrating his life and work.  But it is carnaval right this second and what are you doing at home on the internet anyway?  If you aren’t in a carnivalesque country, at least put on some music and dance around your room.

It is hard to pick a few tunes off this for a short playlist because, seriously, they are all great.  But here are a few, including one performed by the Anjos do Inferno, a group whose name translates into “Hell’s Angels” which is kind of funny since they couldn’t be more temporally or culturally removed from the biker gang or from Roger Corman exploitation flicks.   These are Hells Angels you could invite over for tea.  

 

password: vibes

Caetano Veloso & Banda Black Rio – Bicho Baile Show (1978)

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 Caetano Veloso and Banda Black Rio
Bicho Baile Show (1978)


1.  Intro
2. Odara
3. Tigresa
4. London, London

5. Na Baixa do Sapateiro
6. Leblon via Vaz Lobo
7. Maria fumaça
8. Two Naira fifty Kobo
9. Gente
10. Alegria, alegria
11. Baião
12. Caminho da roça
13. Qualquer coisa
14. Chuva, suor e cerveja


Producedy by Caetano Veloso and Banda Black Rio.  Recorded by Mazola at the Teatro Carlos Gomes, Rio de Janeiro, 1978

Long-time readers of this blog may be surprised to see this post, because there seems to be a mistaken assumption that I somehow strongly dislike work of Caetano Veloso.  This is not true but is a direct result of my “trolling” the public, and particularly the gringo public, by saying that I in general I would rather reach for a Jorge Ben record, any day of the week, over most Caetano records.  That statement was actually about Jorge Ben and the degree to which his music has not been regarded as “culturally significant” art as has someone like Veloso, but the ensuing comment thread turned into something completely different.  I still stand by the original statement, but I gave up “trolling” in my New Years Resolutions, so why not let’s have a blog post that treats Caetano a bit more seriously than all that.

In recent years it is not uncommon to hear fans of Caetano employing a “you have to be able separate the art from the artist” argument, which puts him in the same uneasy company as famous film directors accused of child molestation or rape, so I’m not sure if that is a line of reasoning that works for him in the long run.  And the fact is that this kind of compartmentalization might be more valid if the man himself didn’t insist on being such a public figure, and continuously baiting the Brazilian public with polemical statements.  Why can’t he just be the reclusive genius I want him to be?  Well, if he did that, then he also wouldn’t really be Caetano. Fair enough.  But artists who make a point to that kind of high profile are also fair game for a little malicious snark from the likes of bloggers, especially when these artists start spouting reactionary inanities and conservative bullshit.  Granted he has not gone all Ted Nugent or anything (yet) but  in the words of one Frank Vincent Zappa (in self-parody), “shut up and play your guitar” already.  Even Caetano’s own mother wished he would shut up and stop giving interviews.   I could ignore his provocations more easily if it didn’t seem partly a maneuver to stay “relevant” in the public eye long after his stopped creating music of any real consequence, records that more often than not are embarrassing to listen to, with attempts to sound contemporary by singing Nirvana songs, or “rapping” on his mediocre ‘Tropicália 2’ record with Gil, or be “alternative” by channeling 1980s U2 in a record made in the late-2000s.  When Bob Dylan suddenly converted to evangelical Christianity, he made a fantastic gospel-tinged album, so it was easier for me to swallow whatever nonsense was going on with him personally.   Perhaps this will sound laden with “ageism”, but flailing around on stage like a ragdoll and writhing on stage in near-fetal position (c.f. the film of Phono 73, his performance of  “Asa Branca”) is perhaps edgy performance art when you are in your twenties and its 1973 (emphasis on “perhaps”, by the way), but running around the stage and out into the audience and high-fiving audience members like some kind of faux-Tropical-Springsteen when you reach your 60s just seems kind of desperate (c.f. Caetano on his tour for the album “Cê”

Iconoclasm has always been a major weapon in Caetano’s trick bag, and for the most part it has served a useful and important function, engaging with contemporary debates about culture and authenticity and subverting orthodoxies.  He did this during the televised song festivals when he and Gilberto Gil “went electric” in the moment of Tropicália, angering cultural nationalists who thought of electric guitars as weapons of imperialism;  He did this during the Phono 73 concert by bringing Odair José, a famous singer of so-called “low quality” romantic pop-rock or brega on stage for a duet of one of Odair’s big compositions of the day; and he did it with his album Bicho from 1977 and the live show that promoted it.  Now regarded almost universally as a classic of 1970s post-Tropicália MPB, it may be difficult for the outsider to fathom how it could have caused controversy or polemic in it’s day.  Many critics and cultural gatekeepers seemed to hate it.  In an echo of complaints from similar quarters ten years earlier, objections were raised to his appropriation of “foreign” sounds, in this case funk or disco (sort of, but only from a disco-phobic perspective).  In fact both Bicho and Gilberto Gil’s Refavela were inspired by a trip to Lagos, Nigeria, for the Festival of Black Arts in 1977.  Gil’s record has a proto-world beat sound to it, and is celebratory, energetic, and uplifting in the way you might expect.  Bicho on the other hand tended to be more ponderous, sonically murky, and emotionally mood, but also full of inspired songs with engaging arrangements and brilliant lyrics (this goes without saying for Caetano, and is the one saving grace on even his most musically stale records).  (** see the important note at the bottom if you’ve never heard this album..)

I’m not sure how much of the live show for Bicho was planned before the album was released, or if the show was Caetano’s way of upping the ante even further with his detractors.  For his backing band he chose the ensemble Banda Black Rio.  Now, I happen to like Banda Black Rio quite a bit, but once again here was a group that challenged what it meant to make “Brazilian music” and had some commercial success while doing it (which music critics from seemingly all countries repeatedly used to marginalize or ignore certain kinds of music during the 70s and 80s).  Stylistically they shared as many similarities with Earth Wind and  Fire or The Crusaders as they did with Dorival Caymmi, making largely instrumental records filled with jazz-funk-fusion which they tempered with dendê and coconut.

I remember when I first heard about the existence of this record and was so excited to hear it, only to feel a big disappointment.  Had I just set my expectations too high? Maybe but I don’t think that’s all of it.   I think it is more that this collaboration was one of those ideas that sounds better on paper.  At first listen the whole show sounds almost kind of unrehearsed, but the musicianship is of course impeccable and there’s not really a note out of place – Brazilian musicians of this caliber just don’t “do” unrehearsed.  Maybe it was over-rehearsed to death, then?  It’s not so much like polishing a diamond as sanding all the facets down.  Banda Black Rio were maybe just incapable of injecting the needed emotion into their playing to make these collaboration work.  Their own first few albums were, by and large, instrumental affairs.  Several of the tunes here have these wonderfully moody intro bits that make you think you are about to hear some seriously heavy stuff, and then the song kicks in and just kind of stays at a plateau of sameness.  They get several pieces all to themselves where they stretch out and do that thing they do – playing classics of the canon like Ary Barroso’s “Na baixo do sapateiro” and Luiz Gonzaga’s “Baião” and turning them into funky rumb-shakers wherein their soloists let loose their formidable jazz chops.   It’s a shame they can’t muster the same level of presence into the material with Caetano, because these are some of his best songs.  The opening cut Odara ought to literally blow us away, but it just lacks the urgency of the album version, a track that is most likely the deepest funk Caetano has ever put his name to.  This live version sounds like Caetano performing with a pickup band in a casino, albeit in 1978 which means I still would have thoroughly enjoyed it.  Interestingly the next track, the mellow Tigressa, comes across much more convincingly and could be (or could have been:?)  my favorite thing on the whole record.  Perhaps because Caetano’s acoustic guitar sets the pace – the guy is a master of lilting downtempo stuff like this that isn’t quite a ballad but simmers along nicely.  His astoundingly well-crafted lyrics, and his way of working a melody all sustain this evocative portrait, and then Banda Black Rio even manage to fuck that all up by going into double-time at the end of the tune, instead of just staying in the same tempo and laying into it, swinging it a little harder.  These guys could have benefited from a summer camp retreat with Isaac Hayes (hell, who couldn’t?).   Now although I am putting the blame on them them here, I will admit that I wasn’t hanging around at the rehearsals, and I have no doubt in my mind that the arrangement would not be this way if Caetano wasn’t okay with it.  In fact he may have insisted on it:  here again might be that particular aspect of his iconoclasm that starts to try my patience, pushing an idea farther than it probably deserves to go in the interest of his larger masterplan, turning on the boogie with a song that plainly doesn’t need it.

 “London, London”, his most famous tune from his “exile” recorded under the colors of the Union Jack, works far better than it ought to given all the above circumstances.  Enough to rekindle my hope for this venture.  It’s solid.  Then three consecutive instrumentals from Banda Black Rio while Caetano goes backstage or maybe out in the alleyway to have sex in a taxi cab (he is fond of getting it on in taxi cabs, as seen here in this 1983 film).  BBB sounds damn good here on both the originals and reinterpretations.  Then comes another tune that seems ON PAPER like it would work really well.  “Two Naira Fifty Kobo” is one of my favorite songs on “Bicho,” and this … just… doesn’t… work.   Mind you, I saw Caetano perform the same song twenty-two years later with a different arrangement and that one sucked too.  Maybe I am just being a bastard here – How he dare he mess with MY song! It’s his and he can do what he wants with it, fair enough.  When I saw that show I thought his rendition of the song was watered-down and tepid and a product of a decade of drifting towards ‘world music’-isms; had I only known this 1978 version at the time, I would have realized he had managed to water it down plenty in just a year after first recording it. 

“Gente” is a song that naturally lends itself to the jazzed up execution of this band, but (not to repeat myself or anything) it just isn’t anywhere near as strong as the version performed for the Doces Bárbados show.  In fact this ventures into just plain cheesy territory with some of the choices of instrumental embellishments and flourishes.   But wait, there’s more – you haven’t yet heard the disco-funk interpretation of the song that forever changed the course of contemporary Brazilian music, “Alegria Alegria,” the anthem of Tropicália.  At this point I begin to suspect that Caetano is just trolling us and trying to piss people off.  (And hence, I don’t mind trolling a certain component of his devotees).  Is he serious?  One never knows with him.  This song serves no purpose unless it is to illustrate “we did it because we can.”  More instrumental tunes.  I’d like to think Caetano is offstage doing some blow but he was probably writing off editorials to send to the New York Times or Le Monde or something.  Then he comes back and they phone in a version of Qualquer Coisa, a perfectly good song from his album of the same name, but which in this version has all the period charm of the plaid wallpaper we used to have my basement in the house where I grew up.  If you looked at it while listening to music and let your focus go soft, you might sometimes have a vision of a kilted Scotsman sporting a giant afro.  If only this track left such an enduring memory.  Or any memory at all.  I’ve already forgotten it.  Then the album ends with a frevo, “Chuva, suor e cerveja,” which I think Caetano also recorded for that carnaval album he made with a whole bunch of frevo on it, I don’t remember and I’m too lazy to check right now.  Hell if you actually made it this far into “Bicho Baile Show” and still care, you win the Stalwart Listener Award and I tip my hat to you.

Of course don’t let ME tell you what to think, give it a spin!  I feel badly now, like I should attach a motto to this blog, “Ruining Your Favorite Music Since 2008.”  I swear I thought I was going to write a fairly positive piece about this album when I decided to blog about it, reassuring my readers that I do in fact have a healthy appreciation for Mr. Veloso.  I thought I’d pick a less obvious choice, but I guess there is a reason why this record is seldom talked about.  I promise to pick a better one next time.

Fun drinking game, at least?  Take a shot of your favorite artisinal cachaça (Caetano won’t be having any Pitú) every time he meows like a cat or yelps like a dog!  Just don’t drive home, kids.  Take a taxi.  And hope Caetano isn’t in the back making out with anybody when you climb inside.

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 ** Note:  If you have not yet had the pleasure of hearing ‘Bicho’, which is truly a great album, do yourself a favor and make sure you seek out the *original* mix and now the godawful travesty that is the last reissue of the record.  This is not just me being a purist here –  As murky as the original mix might have been in certain spots, it is far superior to what he did on remixing it.  In part, that remix involved splashing everything with reverb to presumably make it sound more “modern” than the very dry 1977 mix, and the drums sound like they could have been re-recorded (although I don’t think they were) with an awful gated-drum sound that could have come off a record from 1991.  The result is a completely different aesthetic experience, so seek it out in its original.