Latin Fever – Latin Fever (1978)

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Latin Fever 
Larry Harlow Presents Latin Fever
1978 Fania Records JM-00527
 
 
A1     Digan Que Si    
A2     Cancion De La Alegria    
A3     Lo Que Te Gusta Mas    
A4     Rumba Del Monte Adentro    
A5     Chirrin Chirran    
B1     La Mujer Latina    
B2     Que Te Pasa Corazon    
B3     En La Habana    
B4     Our World
 
    Bass – Linda LoPresti
    Bongos – Annette Lopez
    Congas – Nydia Mata
    Drums – Ginger Bianco  
    Flute, tenor saxophone – Jean Fineberg
    Guitar – Bev Phillips
    Lead Vocals – Ada Chabrier, Nancy O’Neill, Rosa Soy
    Piano – Carol Parker
    Timbales – Susan Hadjopoulos
    Trombone – Kathy Cary
    Trumpet – Ellen Seeling, Trudy Cavallo
 
    Arranged By – Luis “Perico” Ortiz (tracks: B1), Marty Scheller (tracks: A1, A2, A4, A5, B2), Randy Ortiz (tracks: B4), Sonny Bravo (tracks: A3, B3)
 
 Producer – Larry Harlow, Rita Harlow
 Engineer – Irv Greenbaum, Mario Salvati

This curious little record seems like it ought to have a lot of great stories surrounding it.  Maybe somebody will come by and tell us some in the comments section here, because there really is not a lot of information out there on the internet.  When I bought it, I assumed that Larry Harlow actually played on the session, and I continued thinking that for a while before I stopped being lazy and actually read the info on the back cover.  I have been noticing signs that I am getting old lately.  One of them is that I do not religiously read album credits like I used to when I was a young lad, back before the days of being flooded with more music than we can possibly listen to in one lifetime.   Another clue that I am getting old is that I actually enjoyed the hell out of a Dire Straits album the other day and thought it was pretty groovy.

So, the truth is that Latin Fever was an all-female group, playing mostly bi-lingual salsa but with strong inflections of latin jazz, soul, funk, and even some rock thrown in the mix by way of Bev Phillip’s plonky guitar solos.  Nearly all the members had an
impressive resume as session musicians, but the idea of an all-woman Latin band was (and still is) rather unusual.  One thing that immediately jumps out from the list of credits is that Latin Fever shared many members with another group of women that was shaking up expectations, the relatively unheralded soul-funk band Isis.  In fact there is so much overlap that you could say they nearly form the core of the band.  I love the first two Isis records, so it is no surprise that I took to this album right away.  The soldiers from the ranks of Isis on this album are: Ginger Bianca on drums and Nydia Mata on congas holding down a solid percussive foundation; Ellen Seeling on trumpet, and Jean Fineberg on saxophone and flute.  With the exception of Bianca, all these musicians also played on a bunch of records from the likes of Laura Nyro, Chic, Sister Sledge, Teresa Trull.  Jean Fineberg also contributed vocals to some classic David Bowie tunes. photo 04 - Label B_zpsfjwdcqgm.jpgLatin Fever featured three lead vocalists, often switching up throughout the tracks, which makes it difficult to say anything about them as individuals.  Ada Chabrier, Rosa Soy, and Nancy O’Neill all put in time as backup singers with Ray Barretto, Joey Pastrana, Fania All-Stars and Orchestra Harlow, among others.  There is quite a bit of talent among the three arrangers as well (who, alas, are all men).  The most impressive  CV here is from Luis “Perico” Ortiz, who only arranged one track here which happens to also be my favorite on the album.  As a trumpet player he appears on dozens of great records in the families of Fania, Vaya, Inca, and Allegre records, but as an arranger he also worked with all the greats, as they say: Hector Lavoe, Cheo Feliciano, Sonera Ponceña, Mongo Santamaria, Roberto Roeno, Celia Cruz, Willie Colon and Ruben Blades, and naturally Orchestra Harlow.  Also notable is the presence of Sonny Bravo on some arrangements, who has too many credits to name but in the years leading up to this record had worked with Tipica ’73, Charlie Palmieri, La Lupe, and Azuquita e Su Melao.  However the majority of material on the album was arranged by a relatively unknown Marty Scheller, who has a much more modest list of credentials.While the first cut “Digan Que Si” is a reasonably strong opener, the record seems to take it’s time getting down to business.  I can’t help but thinking that it was sequenced in a way that wouldn’t threaten too many male egos by having a group of ladies come out and kick serious musical ass, instead opting to ease the listener into the idea of female instrumental virtuosity.  My first real “wow!” moment on this record comes with “Chirrin Chirran” which in my opinion could really have opened up the album instead of being sequenced as a deep cut at the end of side one.  It’s the song that really ties together their whole aesthetic into one seamless bundle, with melody and hooks galore.  I like it so much that it was included on one of my early podcasts here.  I can understand why they didn’t want to open the record with it for the simple reason that it isn’t their own song, but a cover of a hit by Los Van Van.  The original is classic, so I’ve linked it below (and check out that dragging beat on the drums). It is impressive how Latin Fever managed to turn it into a monster jam, complimenting rather than imitating the earlier recording.  They flatten out the jaggedness of the original – which was naturally part of its appeal – but that seems to make it easier for them to stretch it out to jam-worthy lengths, and also add a verse in English of  their own.

One function of a great deep cut at the end of Side One is  that it compels you to waste no time in flipping the record over, promising more treasures.  And indeed things seem to open up a little on the second side, with the immediately compelling “La Mujer Latina,” which must have been something of an anthem for this group and a showcase in their live sets. It is the only completely self-authored composition on the album, credited entirely to Cuban-born vocalist Rosa Soy.  Opening with only vocals and percussion that make the hairs on my neck stand up like an invocation to an orisha, it morphs from salsa into jazzy soul, at which point the lyrics begin to sound a bit like a self-help manual of affirmations and aphorisms I might find at Women and Women First bookstore (“show them you’ve got soul; proving you’re versatile / you’re mother and sister and friend in one”).  I’m down with the message, though, because they are important sentiments, then and now.    The song structure is just as progressive as the lyrics, with four distinct sections that do not repeat.

“Que Te Pasa Corazon” starts as a ballad and ends in a jam. “En La Habana” is a pleasant and uplifting nod to Cuban son music with a deeply grooving bridge section.  “Our World” has a riff that reminds me of Chicago’s great tune “Beginnings” – I wish I hadn’t made the association because now I can’t get it out of my head when I hear this song and I probably just passed it along to you too, so sorry about that.  It has kind of a disco-gliding-across-the-floor mid-tempo groove to it that almost gets kind of Vegas, before the band once again treats us to a tasty bridge that unfortunately isn’t given the time to come to a full climax before coming back into the final verse.

So what happened to Latin Fever?  The liner notes promise more to come, and from the material here it seems like they were off to an auspicious start.  One would think that having Larry Harlow’s name attached as producer and presenter would have helped sell records and draw attention.  Rita Harlow essentially assembled the band, however, so there is an element of them being “artificially” created by management, drawing from a deep pool of studio talent.  Perhaps there were personality conflicts we’ll never know about which kept them from continuing, or perhaps the members realized they could make more money as individual sessions players than as a group, especially since they were probably ceding disproportionate chunks of their income to the Harlows and to Fania’s Jerry Masucci.  Or maybe there was just a lack of interest in the record and they gave up on the idea.  DJ and music writer Aurora Flores remarks in the liner notes that all-female Latin groups were not completely unknown in the past, but were usually relegated to ‘novelty group’ status.  And this LP seemed deliberately trying to avoid that trap, down to the choice not to put a band photo anywhere on the album that would tip off the potential record buyer that this was an “all girl” group.  Hell, look how long I had it in my own collection without picking up on that.  I tip my hat to them for not relying on sexual exploitation on an album cover to sell records – and remember how this was far more socially acceptable and common in the 70s – and refusing to objectify the women in Latin Fever.  On other hand a tasteful group photo, even just on the back cover (I like the painting for the front cover just fine), might have not have hurt.  This is a solid record with moments of real brilliance that seemed to hint at greater achievements ahead.  It’s a shame they called it a day after this LP.

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Reposts – Sept 26, 2013

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From top left to bottom right:

 Antonio Adolfo e Brazuca (1970)
João Nogueira (1972)
Paulo Moura – Fibra (1971)
Ray Barretto – Indestructable (1973)
Bobby Hutcherson – Now! (1969) 
Alaíde Costa – Canta Suavamente (1960)

Some reups for all of you while I am busy with other things.  Please report any erroneous links you come across, cheers.

Joey Pastrana & His Orchestra – Let’s Ball (1967) [Cotique CS-1006] 24/192khz

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Joey Pastrana And His Orchestra
Let’s Ball
1967 Cotique (CS-1006)


     Let’s Ball     4:22   
    Bien Dulce     3:25   
    La Grimas Negras     2:57   
    Mani Picante     3:00   
    Jammin’ With Joey     3:35   
    My Shingaling     3:35   
    Rubon Melon     5:35   
    Flamenco Ole’     3:57   
    En Nada Estas     5:00   


    Ismael Miranda – vocals
    Johnny Riviera – bass
    Chicky Perez – bongos    
    Becky Rivera, Junior Morales, Sonia Rivera – chorus
    Willie Pastrana – congas
    Joey Pastrana – band leader, drums
    Paquito Pastor – piano
    Jack Hitchcock, Wilfred Vasquez – trombones
    Dave Gonzalez – trumpet
   


    Photography – Charles Stewart
    Album jacket design  – John Murello
    Engineer – Gary Kellgren
    Produced by George Goldner 

Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair with mono fold-down; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

*As you can plainly see, Joey’s name is spelled PASTRANO all over this release.  This was an error by the Cotique label who rushed it’s release.  It’s particularly odd because they got his brother’s name right.

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 Poster courtesy of herencialatina.com

Joey was a prolific musician whose hits got more radio airplay outside of his home turf of the Big Apple, in large part because of unfriendly relations with the Fania clique who had scary control over disc jockeys at the time.  As a teen he studied the drum kit under Gene Krupa, gave it up because it was too much of a pain in the ass to carry his gear home on the subway at 3 a.m., and switched to percussion, soon becoming an accomplished timbalero while playing with Bobby Valentin’s group.  

This is a very nice album debut for Joey Pastrana as a bandleader, highlighting one of his traits that contributed to his survival beyond the boogaloo craze – he always diversified his repertoire with different rhythms.  In fact fact I’m glad he breaks things up, because I often can’t handle entire records of boogaloo all at once.  Although Joey and his brother Willie (on congas) were young dudes when they made this record, they swing their mambos, salsas,and descargas like old pros here.    The title track “Let’s Ball”, “Bien Dulce,”  and “My Shingaling” are really the only boogaloos here, and the spectacular track “Rumbon Melon” became something of a salsa standard.   Another special treat is Joey’s arrangement of
Lágrimas Negras (inexplicably written as La Grimas Negras on the jacket
and label), a classic tune from Trío Matamoros first recorded in the
30s.  The instrumental “Flamenco Olé” allows brother Willie to take some liberties on the congas, and the trombones have echoes of “A Night In Tunisia.”    The lead vocals on the LP are from none other than a young Ismael Miranda, who made only this one album with Joey in between gigs with the Harlow brothers (first Andy, then Larry).  Joey was also ahead of his time having women backup singers in the coro, one of whom was his sister-in-law, Sonia Rivera.

Fun fact:  I actually did pay only 49 cents for this record (plus
tax!), still sealed in the original shrinkwrap.  I don’t remember
exactly where I found it except that it was someplace very unhip, like a
K-Mart or a Sears or one of those department-stores places that used
to sell vinyl.  It was in the 1990s, when such stores still had some
stock, and you would sometimes randomly wander through one and see a
bunch of LPs on clearance  Like this one, which they
obviously had no idea what the hell it was. You’re not likely to find this for fifty cents now.  So grab this here, burn it to a CD-R and give it to everyone you know, and without an ounce of misgiving:  Joey never made a cent off his Cotique recordings, and (as per this 2005 interview) was exploring ways to sue them.

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Harlem River Drive (1971) {Eddie and Charlie Palmieri} 24-bit/96khz vinyl

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Harlem River Drive – Harlem River Drive

Originally released on Roulette Records (SR 3004), 1971
this pressing, reissue – year unknown
1 Harlem River Drive (Theme Song) (4:05)

Bass – Victor Venegas
Organ – Charlie Palmieri
Timbales – Nick Marrero
Guitar – Bob Bianco
Drums – Reggie Ferguson
Congas – Eladio Perez

2 If (We Had Peace Today) (2:56)

Guitar – Cornell Dupree
Trombone – Bruce L. Fowler
Trumpet – Burt Collins
Bass – Gerald Jemmott
Drums – Dean Robert Pratt

3 Idle Hands (8:27)

Bass – Gerald Jemmott
Timbales – Nick Marrero
Saxophone [Tenor] – Dick Meza
Guitar – Cornell Dupree
Drums – Bernard Purdy
Trombone – Bruce L. Fowler
Congas – Eladio Perez

4 Broken Home (10:35)

Guitar – Bob Bianco
Organ – Charlie Palmieri
Congas, Cowbell – Manny Oquendo
Bass – Victor Venegas
Drums – Nick Marrero

5 Seeds Of Life (5:07)

Bass – Victor Venegas
Bass [Fender] – Andy Gonzalez
Timbales – Manny Oquendo
Guitar [Lead] – Bob Mann
Saxophone [Tenor] – Dick Meza
Drums – Bernard Purdy
Trombone – Barry Rogers
Trumpet – Randy Brecker
Congas – Eladio Perez
Guitar [Accompanying] – Cornell Dupree

Produced by Lockie Edwards and Eddie Palmieri
Engineer – Fred Weinberg
Remix engineer – Jay Messina
Artwork By – Ruby Mazur’s Art Department

Technical info
Vinyl repressing -> Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply) > Creek Audio OBH-15 -> M-Audio Audiophile 2496 Soundcard -> Adobe Audition 3.0 at 24-bits 96khz -> Click Repair light settings, additional clicks and pops removed in Audition -> dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced -> ID Tags done in foobar2000 v.1.0.1 and Tag & Rename.

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Still a criminally under-appreciated album and were it not for the blogoshere it would be even more so. I’ve been sitting on this one for a long long time without sharing it, waiting for stars to align perfectly for me to write something inspired about this exhilarating album, and then I remembered that it made an appearance on the Orgy In Rhythm blog a few years back. The write-up there is so well-down it would superfluous to add much to it. I will only add that, since the post at Orgy, it has apparently been reissued on CD although I haven’t personally seen a copy.

As you can see below, he also states that he forked out the cash for a pricey Japanese vinyl pressing. The links are dead there so I can’t make any comparisons, but I think my rip — made from a recent reissue, year unknown, on inferior-quality vinyl — still sounds pretty nice. There is surface noise on some of the atmospheric parts of Broken Home, for example, that has been there since I tore the plastic off the LP jacket – this is NOT virgin , but it was also priced accordingly. And generally I think the sound is pretty warm and full. I hope you enjoy and encourage people to leave comments about what you think.

From Orgy in Rhythm, 2006

Eddie Palmieri’s supergroup Harlem River Drive was the first group to really merge black and Latin styles and musicians, resulting in a free-form brew of salsa, funk, soul, jazz, and fusion. Though it was led by pianist Palmieri, the group also included excellent players from both the Latin community (his brother Charlie, Victor Venegas, Andy GonZalez) and the black world (Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Ronnie Cuber). Named as an ironic reference to the New York City street which allowed predominantly suburban drivers to bypass East Harlem entirely on their way to lower Manhattan, Harlem River Drive released their groundbreaking debut album in 1970 on Roulette, including Latin and underground club hits like the title track and “Seeds of Life.” Unfortunately, Harlem River Drive was their only album, though the group did appear co-billed on Eddie Palmieri’s two-part 1972 release, Live at Sing Sing, Vols. 1-2.
The reason this record is “legendary” is because it marks the first recorded performances, in 1970, of Eddie and Charlie Palmieri as bandleaders. The reason it should be a near mythical recording (it has never been available in the U.S. on CD, and was long out of print on LP before CDs made the scene), is for its musical quality and innovation. The Palmieris formed a band of themselves, a couple of Latinos that included Andy Gonzales, jazz-funk great — even then — Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, and some white guys and taught them how to play a music that was equal parts Cuban mambo, American soul via Stax/Volt, blues, Funkadelic-style rock, pop-jazz, and harmonic and instrumental arrangements every bit as sophisticated as Burt Bacharach’s or Henry Mancini’s or even Stan Kenton’s. One can hear in “Harlem River Drive (Theme)” and “Idle Hands” a sound akin to War’s on World Is a Ghetto. Guess where War got it? “If (We Had Peace)” was even a model for Lee Oskar’s “City, Country, City.” And as much as War modeled their later sound on this one record, as great as they were, they never reached this peak artistically. But there’s so much here: the amazing vocals (Jimmy Norman was in this band), the multi-dimensional percussion section, the tight, brass-heavy horn section, and the spaced-out guitar and keyboard work (give a listen to “Broken Home”) where vocal lines trade with a soprano saxophone and a guitar as snaky keyboards create their own mystical effect. One can bet that Chick Corea heard in Eddie’s piano playing a stylistic possibility for Return to Forever’s Light As a Feather and Romantic Warrior albums. The band seems endless, as if there are dozens of musicians playing seamlessly together live — dig the percussion styling of Manny Oquendo on the cowbell and conga and the choral work of Marilyn Hirscher and Allan Taylor behind Norman. Harlem River Drive is a classic because after 30-plus years, it still sounds as if listeners are the ones catching up to it.

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Fruko, El Bueno – Ayunando (1973) Fruko y Sus Tesos

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FRUKO, EL BUENO
“Ayunando”
Released 1973
Disco Fuentes (LP 200748)

01 – Fruko Power
02 – Ayunando
03 – Tu Sufriras
04 – Yo Soy el Punto Cubano
05 – Lamentdo del Campesino
06 – Mosaico Santero: A Santa Bárbara – San Lázaro – A la Caridad del Cobre
07 – El Ausente
08 – Canto a Borinquen
09 – Pa’ Teso Yoi

Vocals: Joe Arroyo and Wilson Saoko
Trumpets: Jorge Gariria, Salvador Pasos
Trombones: Gonzalo Gómez, Freddy Ferrer
Timbales: Rafael Benitez
Conga – Fernando Villegas
Bongo: Jesús Villegas
Electric Piano: Luis Felipe Basto
Bass, arrangements: Fruko

Executive Producer: Jose Maria Fuentes E.
Produced by: Mario Rincon P
Musical Director: Fruko
Recording Engineer: Mario Rincon P.

Vinyl -> Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply) > Creek Audio OBH-15 -> M-Audio Audiophile 2496 Soundcard -> Adobe Audition 3.0 at 24-bits 96khz -> Click Repair light settings, some isolated clicks removed using Audition -> dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced. Tags done with Foobar 2000

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Anyone who has heard the compilations from the likes of Soundway Records or VampiSoul covering cumbia, salsa, or Latin funk sounds has no doubt had the tracks from Fruko jump right out at them. His band went through a variety of sounds over the 70s and I haven’t heard anything I didn’t like yet. Here we see him in a humorous counter-spin on the campy ‘bad boy’ image he had been using (modeled somewhat after Willie Colon’s album covers) on his earlier album art, by becoming the benevolent “Fruko the Good”!

Fruko’s discography is so huge, and I am familiar with such a small portion of it, that it’s difficult for me to say anything of much profundity. However, he is known to a lot of us non-Colombians for some of the funkier stuff he recorded as well as his bad-ass cumbias. But on this record, the only thing funky is the rather creepy and slightly nauseating album cover (thank the stars for the strategic use of glass decanters…) featuring Fruko in his best Bacchus impersonation, and there is no cumbia to had. This is pretty much a straight salsa album with strains of Latin Soul via the Nuyorican scene. Although I prefer Joe Arroyo’s vocals slightly over Wilson Saoko, Wilson definitely knows how to kick it on the more ‘soulful’ bits, and his singing on the wonderful “Lamento del campesino” is fantastic. The idea of having two lead singers in his band — both of them great, really – is just one of the things that makes Fruko and this record special. That, and the disturbing album cover. Check out the electric piano (Wurlitzer, I believe) work on this album too, in place of the more traditional acoustic piano. There isn’t a bad tune in the bunch, with some of my favorites being the title cut, “Mosaico Santero”, “El Ausente” (which has appeared on some compilations), and the tribute to ‘my people’ in Puerto Rico, “Canto a Boriquen.”

Oddly enough there are not just song samples but entire songs from this album available from the website of COLOMBIAN NATIONAL RADIO

I would like to say that personally I find my own vinyl rip much more satisfying to the ears…

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Academia da Berlinda – Academia da Berlinda (2007)

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The conjoined-twin-cities of Recife/Olinda in Brasil boast one of the diverse music scenes in a country full of musical diversity. The bad part is that you only have to be there about ten minutes before you have half a dozen hipsters in plaid pants and oversized sunglasses harangue you with the facts about how great and diverse their scene is. If you had to chose one commonality to highlight as a collective characteristic, it would be the ability of most of these artists to draw on various strands of regional ‘roots’ music and reinvent them, rescuing them from the staid museum-preservations of “folklore” and incorporating them as a vital component of the cultural life of Pernambuco and Brazil. However, such artistic vanguards are (as they have always been in most places) the concern of the upper middle class; In spite of the working-class background of a figure like Chico Science, you would be hard-pressed to find a pedreiro (bricklayer, mason) attending a Mundo Livre show.

A great deal of the artists in these cities have been basking in the stardust glow of the comet known as Chico Science, who died tragically in an auto accident in the late 90s at the age of 30, and at the peak of his creative success. His name was synomous with the Mangue Beat (or Bit) scene that also included the plastic arts, cinema, and literature, and whose musical component would include truly original talents like Mundo Livre S/A (some of the time), Mestre Abrosia, Comadre Fulozinha and others. Unfortunately, when movements in popular music begin to issue “manifestos” to the press and the world, you know they have begun to take themselves a bit too seriously for their own good. In the wake of that initial burst of innovation and creativity surrounding Chico Science and his coconspirators, “the scene” ends up devolving into the fate of most such ‘local’ scenes — a perpetual circle-jerk of musical inbreeding where nobody is inclined to call each other out when they’ve slipped into mediocrity, and where “Six Degrees of Chico Science” seems to be a popular parlor game. Although the contemporary scene there may still be more interesting than the majority of Brazilian cities, that in itself does not say much, and in a substantive way were are talking about “Big Fish in a Small Pond.” The spectrum runs from scenester veterans Mundo Livre, who hit the mark about 50% of the time with some brilliant songs in between bombastic turns of pseudo-post-punk (sounding more like angsty 90’s grunge) and the overbearing pretentious lyrics of their frontman Fred 04; to Nação Zumbi sans Chico Science, for whom I could cut some slack to since they have to walk in that giant’s shadow, but have yet to make any records that I find all that interesting; to the disappointing and often outright unlistenable solo albums from all the principle artists that comprised Comadre Fulozinha, albums that either leave no more permanent impression than a passing breeze, or else make you want to smash your radio into tiny bits like the recent record from indie starlet Karina Buhr. (Edit: I have to try and be nicer – the albums from Alessandra Leão and Isaar are at least listenable, they just don’t do anything for me personally and I don’t find them compelling. The album from Karina Buhr however is just terrible, leading me to wonder “Why would anybody actually listen to this?” In fact I have conducted semi-scientific tests with this record on people who live in Recife: unlike some albums that tend to ‘grow on you’ with repeated listenings, unveiling their charms slowly, Karina Buhr’s album is actually the REVERSE of this process — On first listen is seems kind of bad but possibly worth your time; as you listen to it more, it just gets worse and worse as you realize it’s true mediocrity. I personally can’t make it through the whole record — this test was conducted scientifically on willing participants who claim to enjoy the Recife music scene. I swear.)

There are groups that work better as concepts than actually listenable music, like the now-defunct Cordel de Fogo Encantado who had brilliant lyrics but godawful music; to the empty iconoclasm of DJ Dolores’ electronic globalisms; and then there are a smattering of dull, pedestrian acts like “Otto,” “Eddie” (a band, not a person, whose music is about as interesting as their name), Original Olinda Style, or Orchestra Contemporania de Olinda, and some other Olinda-centric acts, nearly all of whom share musicians and a proclivity for the redundant.

Amidst all this inbreeding of mediocrity, you would probably expect any new-born progency to be cross-eyed and genetically-challenged. This is NOT the case with Academia de Berlinda, who for my money are above and beyond all of the aforementioned acts, even though they are comprised of musicians who have participated or continue to play with a bunch of them. Perhaps because they began essentially as a sideproject from all the musician’s “main gigs”, they didn’t seem to take themselves too seriously and have been creating music that is engaging, well-written, and fun as hell. The first time I heard them, I had a similar reaction to my first encounters with Stereolab — it sounds good and it’s very catchy, but mostly I felt like I was listening to a band whose biggest asset was that they owned extensive and very hip record collections. In the case of Academia de Berlinda I was confronted with cumbia, Peruvian ‘chicha’, Cuban salsa (there is even a track named ‘Bela Vista’ in honor of a proletariat neighborhood that hosts a ‘Cuban night’ of music and dance frequented by the cultural elite), African hybrids, rock and roll, Brazilian brêga, carimbó from Pará… But contrary to Stereolab, who in spite of their many albums and impecable taste in plundering sources just never really moved me much, I found something different with Academia de Berlinda — an excitement and passion they bring to their work that manages to overcome the lurking sense of irony and kitsch. There is definitely some hipster-irony going on here, which may or may not include the laconic and somewhat off-pitch vocal delivery, but also a clear sense that they believe in what they are doing. It is often said of bands that produce highly-danceable music that you have to experience them live to get the full effect. The Academia’s live performances are certainly well worth it and often transcendent in their ability to work a room, although they have a Tim Maia-like propensity to hit the stage remarkably late.. But what is more amazing is that this excitement managed to actually get translated to a recording. A great of deal of the Recife/Olinda music suffers from over-production, an over-ripeness that comes from too much fussiness and not enough spontaneaty in the recording studio (a criticism I also level at contemporary Brazilian music in general). But this album has a very ‘live,’ raw, and very analog sound to it, while still taking advantages of the studio. When I used to work occasionally as a DJ either at parties or on the radio, I would usually try and play a tune off this album (Cumbia de Lutador and Ivete being my favorites to spin) — and I invariablly receied positive feedback and questions: somebody coming up to me (or calling me up, when I was on the radio) asking, “Who the hell is this? Where can I find it?” And I really have to say that, even in the case of Chico Science and Nação Zumbi, I haven’t received that type of reaction from playing much ‘contemporary’ Brazilian music to a non-Brazilian audience. Perhaps it is the ability of Academia de Berlinda to blur genres without being pedantic about it, to push boundaries in a subtle way that never sacrificies substance to style. But something about this music resonnates with people, whether it’s in the crowds that flock to hear them play in cramped bars or in spacious open-air venues during Carnaval, or in someone listening on the low-wattage radio waves in Detroit. In general terms of cultural production, Brazil has often had a historical tendency to refuse to see itself as part of Latin America, often preferring to distance itself from the contributions of its neighbors (even when appreciating or appropriating them) in favor of turning inward and reflecting on its own endless complexities. Brazil’s own hugeness – geographically, culturally, intellectually – has in some ways hampered its ability to stand in solidarity with The Americas and earmarked it as an imperial power to its neighbors. Academia de Berlinda is certainly not the first to break out of this pattern (fellow Recifense Nana Vasconcelos standing an an important remarkable exceptions and innovator in this regard), but it is nonetheless refreshing to hear a group of young, seasoned musicians break out with such a rich, textured work as is found on this this album, a record that draws upon so much without ever being gratuitous in their eclecticism. Oh, except for the final track, which is a pointless remix of the opening eponymous song – but I will forgive them for that, since superfulous, gratuitous and usually boring remixes are a sign of the times.

Another cool thing about this band is their embracing of digital distribution. This album was available on their website for a long time. The post here is audio extracted from an actual physical CD, with art scans taken from the original packing (except, oddly enough, the cover, which seems to have been deleted from my computer before I stored the disc in my bunker in the Kayman Islands). Academia de Berlinda may just be one of the most under-achieving bands in all of this overly-busy music scene, another thing I find sort of charming about them. Founding in 2004, finally put out a record in 2007, and are releasing their second album in 2011. Apparently it is already available online, but I have yet to listen to it — In truth, I wanted to write down my thoughts about this album, before complicating it by listening to their follow-up. As has been said by others and elsewhere, a group’s second album adds a dynamic self-reflexivity that begins to play with the identity of “who” a band or an artist is. When they only have one record out, it is pretty easy to say “who they are” — that one record is generally a fair representation of that identity. With subsequent releases, that identity becomes complicated and multifaceted. I don’t particularly expect their new record to depart from this winning formula overmuch — at least, I hope that they do not. In the mean time, I hope some people who wouldn’t otherwise have encountered this album benefit from this post, and enjoy this band as much as I have.

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