By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
"Subtle Samba" eerily sounds exactly like the kind of music Bonf† was recording in the early Sixties. But today, the music has lost its fire. It's no longer spicy enough to bring even the warmest blood to a boil. Bonf† shows that he's found no new ways of adding life to a once-perfect musical marriage. If Bonf† can't rekindle the heat of jazz and Brazil doing the bossa nova nasty, little surprise that lesser musicians are trying and failing.
A few Brazilian jazz musicians have found ways to wring new juices from this old style. Guitarist-composers Djavan, Milton Nascimento and Pat Metheny (who considers Brazil his home) have remained true to the inspiration found in classics like "Chega de Saudade" and "The Girl From Ipanema." Like blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan did with Hendrix, they've pulled it off by respectfully keeping the old style current.
Sadly, though, many other big-name players are dragging the two countries toward Divorce Court by losing that matchless cool-jazz/Brazilian-folk elixir. Everything started to go wrong in the late Sixties and Seventies. Bossa nova didn't seem so hip anymore. The country's musical laureates were battling divorces as well as drug and alcohol problems. Worse, Brazil found itself battling dictatorship. The ruling military state found many of the gentle bossa nova stars to be politically incorrect, and jailed them. Brazil's music scene looked to the U.S. for new directions. It found its answer in the electric guitars of hippie bands and in-yer-face protest lyrics of the anti-Vietnam War bunch. Those influences gave birth to the tropicalismo movement, the Brazilian equivalent of our psychedelic era. Unfortunately, it also killed everything that was soft and subtle in bossa nova.
The dictators eventually fell off their flagpoles. But the cool-jazz/Brazilian-folk-music embrace was broken. The musical rule of tropicalismo was that anything goes. This resulted in a handful of great recordings, but a truckload of embarrassing recordings by Brazilians trying to be a jazzy Jefferson Airplane. Hard as it is to believe, the Eumir Deodato of 1973's jazz fusion "Also Sprach Zarathustra" is a Brazilian artist who once played Brazilian music. And Sergio Mendes, who has recently returned to form, spent 25 garish years trying to be Brazil's answer to the Carpenters. Although vital, new voices are returning, Brazilian jazz has never regained the perfect match of styles that made the bossa nova work. Today, many of the couplings between American jazz and Brazilian music are embarrassing failures. Saxophonist Ivo Perelman, for example, has recently made very awkward attempts at joining his country's rhythms with American avant-garde jazz. The results sound a bit like samba-induced spaz attacks. Saxophonist-clarinetist Paulo Moura hasn't done much better with Dois Irmaos, a recent duet album done with guitarist Raphael Rabello. Moura sounds like Dixieland music with his constant soaring on the clarinet, an instrument that sounds about as Brazilian as bagpipes. The quirky "Chorando Baixinho" could be mistaken for a ragtime Scott Joplin piece if not for the solid guitar work of Rabello, one of the best players in Rio today. Without his jazz-laced Brazilian folk style, the disc could very well have come from the New Orleans Hilton. Worst of all, though, are the Brazilian jazzers who've decided to ape the saccharine sounds of Najee, Kenny G. and the other bastard brothers of cool jazz. Lacking the interesting twists and unique musical statements that Stan Getz and his cool school once offered, these new American imports are hardly good elevator music, let alone sounds worth imitating.
One of the biggest-name Brazilian converts to this disposable jazz form is Dori Caymmi. The son of Sixties-era bossa nova star Dorival Caymmi, Dori began his career by looking to American jazz piano giant Bill Evans for inspiration. But recently, he's settled for collaboration with the reigning jazz brothers from hell, Dave and Don Grusin, who both add their limp playing and composing to Caymmi's Kicking Cans. The Grusin twosome drag Caymmi dangerously close to the jaws of musical death. The margarine-smooth arrangements and wordless vocals of tunes like "Northeast" and "Migration" are nearly as trance-inducing as everything else in the Grusins' catalogue. Three more violins and one more layer of studio echo and Caymmi will have allowed Dave and Don to completely bury his father's legacy in fluff.
Caymmi is certainly not the only Brazilian or American who tends to stir jazz and Brazilian music into a tasteless musical goo. Southern lightweights like composer Ivan Lins and guitarist Ricardo Silviera (who plays on Kicking Cans) have their counterparts in the tepid, fake-Brazilian output of American guitarists Lee Ritenour and Earl Klugh. You'll find more of Brazil in the coffee they must have drunk to stay awake in the studio.
Apart from Gosto de Brasil's prejazz folk music and the overshadowed fret work of Raphael Rabello on Dois Irmaos, these discs show Brazil slowly erasing herself from the music, sounding either entirely too sold American or cornball nostalgic.
This crop of Brazilian discs certainly won't inspire the Gabriella girls to shake a finger, much less their hips. When they want to get down, they turn to young Brazilian lionesses like Marisa Monte and Leila Pinheiro, forward-looking artists who are not about to be ruled by anything American or give up their home in Brazil.